Friday, 21 September 2012

Atheist or agnostic?

 written by Sam

Guess I should start off with an introduction. I'm Sam, the second half of the Neuroatheist brain, a recent graduate of psychology and a new addition to the world of neuropsychology when I start my MSc Neuropsychology at University of Bristol in October.

When questioning people about their religious beliefs, I'll often get answers about how a person claims  themselves to be an 'agnostic,' rather than an atheist or theist. It's safe to say that this is one of the most annoying things I find a person can do when it comes to discussion about religious belief. Let me explain why.

Atheism and agnosticism are not both part of the same spectrum, you either believe in God or you don't. Let's start with the definitions of these two words.

- Atheist: Lack of belief in a deity.
- Agnostic: Lack of knowledge in a deity.

Atheism concerns the presence (or not) of belief in a deity while agnosticism concerns the knowledge of the existence of a deity i.e. an agnostic claims to have no knowledge that God exists, and also that no knowledge of a deity will ever exist. A gnostic would make claim of knowledge. This therefore allows one to be both atheist and agnostic, an 'agnostic atheist', and it is what I consider myself. This also allows one to be an 'agnostic theist,' somebody who believes in a deity although makes no claim to know one exists.

The reason why I bring this up is because I have experienced many people who claim to be agnostic when asked whether or not they believe in God. This usually follows me asking them whether or not they believe in God, an answer such as 'I don't know' isn't sufficient, how can one not know what they believe? I believe people use the term agnostic instead of referring to themselves as an atheist is because of the stigma attached the word atheist. Some people have gotten it into their heads that being agnosticism is a lesser, more agreeable position than atheism, something I can't begin to fathom. Why does a person wish to be part of the fence sitting, neutral group, I can't feel any prouder of myself to be an atheist. At a time when atheism is on the rise and we are slowly seeing the decline of religion, we need more people than ever to come out and announce themselves atheist.