Friday, February 10, 2012

one god further

People are so perennially confused about how to use the terms "atheist" and "agnostic." "Darwin's Bulldog" Huxley gave us the latter term in 1889: 
It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant... In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith.

Bertrand Russell  addressed the issue years ago:
I never know whether I should say "Agnostic" or whether I should say "Atheist"... I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods... all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.
My student DH offers this:
"Gnostic" is relating to knowledge. "A" is the negation (not; without) what ever follows, which in this case is "gnostic." So, your agnostic--without knowledge in relation to a god or the supernatural. 

"Atheism" is the same deal. "Gimme an 'a"" (i.e., not) along with theism (the belief in gods) and you arrive a not (the negation) believing in gods. 

It's that simple. 
So we're all agnostic insofar as we don't know about gods or the supernatural. Those of us who go a short step further and assert our disbelief in gods and the supernatural on the basis of that lack of knowledge and compelling evidence are atheists. Simple indeed.

Richard Dawkins makes it even simpler:
I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.
One step beyond, and you're there. Dare to be bold, freethinkers. You have nothing to lose but your ambivalence.

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