We define atheism in manner many of you will find controversial. But, we have given this a lot of thought and despite any objections I know many of you will have, these definitions are not only non-problematic but better than the standard definitions you might use.
That is not to say the standard definitions are wrong, just that these are better, at least in some ways. The only slight issue being that there are two kinds of agnostics as here defined and you may need to specify which kind of agnostic you are talking about. This will become clearer in a moment.
Yes, much of this content is taken directly from the subscription article “Atheism or Anti-religion”. If you have read the most current version of that, you should already get the general idea. This might give a few more details or clarity for those still not sure about what we are saying or for those not quite convinced.
Anyway, here goes…
Atheism: The firm conviction that gods or other such supernatural entities do not exist.
We know that our definition of atheism is more narrow than the standard definition. According to our definition an atheist does not simply lack belief.
Lots of people lack such beliefs. But, an atheist rejects the existence of such beings.
That means that everyone is one of three categories: They are convinced in the existence of gods and the like, making them a theist. They are firmly convinced that such beings do not exist, in which case they are an atheist. Or, they are uncertain and not committed to believing they exist nor that they do not exist. Making them an agnostic.
Let us define theism: The firm conviction that gods or other such supernatural entities do exist.
Agnosticism: The state of not being sure whether or not gods and such supernatural beings exist. An agnostic is not convinced either way. Some agnostics believe that no such knowledge is possible and this is agnostic in the sense often used in technical philosophy.
If you are unsure, you are an agnostic. Even if you think they most likely do not exist, but are not sure. If you refuse to take any position and are unsure, you are an agnostic. If you say “Well, they probably don’t, but maybe” you are unsure and you uncommitted and an agnostic.
It is important to grasp that here agnosticism is used not just in the sense of “You can’t know” but “I don’t know” as well! This includes all people not convinced one way or another as to whether or not such beings exist.
This is not a redefinition of agnosticism, it is simply using it in the more broad and common sense of the word. While allowing a more narrow definition of agnosticism as specifically the “I cannot know kind”, as long as you specify that is the kind of agnosticism you are talking about. You might call this “philosophical” agnosticism, the conviction that such things are not knowable.
Why do we define atheism this way? Well, it is less vague. If atheism is merely “a lack of belief”, then this includes agnostics as well. They lack belief, just as do people who reject the divine. So, if someone is an atheist, do they reject the divine or just have a vague non-belief?
This way it is easier to distinguish the two. And you do not have to deal with a “hard” vs “soft” atheism distinction. Soft atheists usually being those who lack a belief, hard atheists being those who reject such beings.
And agnostics being those unsure as to whether they accept or reject such beings.
We think it is important to have a term which clearly and unambiguously refers to those who reject the divine. As opposed to not really clearly indicating this, at least not without further clarification.
Granted, it allows for two different kinds of agnosticism. Those who simply do not know and those who do not know and think that they cannot know. And you may have to specify what kind of agnostic you are talking about.
But, is that any worse than simply saying atheists lack belief? Since that includes agnostic. And those convinced such beings don’t exist. In the same category! If you are going to do that, why not just call them non-believers?
Some people believe these definitions do away with those simply lacking belief but not convinced gods do not exist. No, they are agnostics. Many or perhaps most so called “atheists” fit into this category.
Some might object to us including the “I don’t know, but maybe I could know” people in with the “I can’t know” people. But, why have yet another term for these people? We already have three terms, why multiply the number of terms to cover every highly specific kind of answer to “Do gods exist?”. I think having “yes”, “no” or “maybe” categories are enough. Why create a separate term for the “I do not know, but I could know” people?
No, I think simply stating which kind of agnosticism you mean is sufficient. Without having to coin/use yet another term.
Alright, that is that. As we will be discussing atheism, theism and agnosticism again on this blog, please keep these definitions in mind (although we will be repeating them as required).