Classification and Scope Irreligion – an absence of, indifference towards, or hostility towards religion Atheism Nontheism Agnosticism Ignosticism Antireligion Skepticism Apatheism Freethought Antitheism Non-believer Secular humanism Theological noncognitivism
Philosophical Viewpoint Theism and atheism are positions of belief (or lack thereof) regarding the existence of deities. Gnosticism and agnosticism are positions of knowledge (or the lack thereof) regarding the Truth value of certain claims as knowable or unknowable.
Differences in Affirmation A negative atheist merely lacks a belief in gods. He is also called a weak atheist or an implicit atheist. A positive atheist not only lacks a belief in gods, but also affirms that no gods exist. He is also called a strong atheist or an explicit atheist. Source:
Differences in Knowledge A gnostic atheist not only believes there are no gods, he also claims to know there are no gods. An agnostic atheist doesn’t believe in gods, but doesn’t claim to know there are no gods. Source:
Philosophical Viewpoint Agnosticism describes the epistemological process leading to my atheist beliefs. I am an agnostic atheist because the existence of a deity that is inherently faith-based is un-testable and therefore unknowable. Because it is unknowable or unknown, I do not assert that gods could not exist. Humans can only experience the natural world, and the natural world can be explained by science. The defining feature of any deity must be supernatural, and therefore exists outside the observable reality. “Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle... do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” - Thomas Henry Huxley
Philosophical Viewpoint Skepticism Asserts that true knowledge or certainty in a particular area is impossible. A method of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing. A method of intellectual caution and suspended judgment. Beliefs based on probabilities derived from empirical evidence – no emotional preference.
Dawkins’ Formulation Label Probability that God exists Summary statements Strong theist100%In the words of C.G. Jung, “I do not believe, I know.” Theist Very high probability but short of 100% I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there. Agnostic Higher than 50% but not very high Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.” Impartial agnostic Exactly 50% “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.” Agnostic Lower than 50% but not very low Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.” Atheist Very low probability but short of 0% I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there. Strong atheist0% 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.' Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Bantam Books. pp. p. 50. ISBN
Myths and Misconceptions
Myth: Atheists worship the devil. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Atheists don’t even acknowledge the devil’s existence – so they certainly don’t worship him. Could atheists be doing the devil’s work without knowing it? It’s possible, but there is no empirical evidence supporting this.
Myths and Misconceptions Myth: Atheists believe they will be reincarnated as a tree and join the life force of the Earth. There are a lot of mystical assumptions here. It is unnecessary to assign the Earth any magical powers beyond the laws of physics. Our atoms will be recycled, but “reincarnation” implies the persistence of a soul – which hasn’t been demonstrated to exist.
Myths and Misconceptions Myth: Atheists believe that life is meaningless. On the contrary, because I don’t believe in an afterlife, the life I am living is very precious and important. All the more reason to live life to the fullest! “Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived.” – Sam Harris
Myths and Misconceptions Myths: Atheists are closed-minded. As a skeptic, I don’t get emotionally attached to an argument. If evidence contradicts my beliefs, then my beliefs are easily changed. Anything is possible, but not everything is equally probable. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – Carl Sagan
Myths and Misconceptions Myth: Atheists are closed to spiritual experience. There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe. I get inspired by contemplating our place in the universe and the meaning of life just like anyone else.
Myths and Misconceptions Myth: Atheists are arrogant. When talking about science, there is an unspoken uncertainty in any result. Without this understanding, we come off sounding like dismissive authorities. “[Based on my knowledge, understanding, and interpretation of the prevailing evidence, and with the general consensus of the scientific community, it seems reasonable to conclude that]… the Earth is round.” These contentions are rarely put forth as absolute Truth, but can be considered reasonably certain.
Myths and Misconceptions Myth: Atheism provides no basis for morality. Morality is a social construction based on principles that are mutually beneficial to all humans working and living together. (Some of which have been demonstrated in social animals) “Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.” – Sam Harris
Questions? FSM 2005 Bobby Henderson
Additional Resources Richard Dawkins’ viewpoints expressed neatly in a short interview: Russell's teapot (Reductio ad absurdum) Russell's teapot The Skeptics Society (skeptic.com)skeptic.com American Atheists (atheists.org)atheists.org The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (and Koran)