“See, I don’t believe you’re an atheist. I think you’re an agnostic.”
“You don’t sound like an atheist at all! Why do you call yourself that when you’re obviously an agnostic?”
“You’re definitely agnostic… not an atheist at all.”
“See, you say you’re an atheist, but when we talk, you sound like an agnostic.”
Seriously, people, this gets incredibly annoying. Why do you assume that I don’t know what I am? Why do you think that I don’t know what I believe and what I don’t believe?
Here… read this Wikipedia article on Agnostic Atheism. It should help you out…
Done? Good. Now, I’ll continue.
You are actually right. I am an agnostic. I never have, and never would, claim otherwise.
The reason I’m an agnostic is because I don’t have the gumption; or the ego; to claim that I know the Theory of Everything. I realize that there’s still a lot about the universe and existence that we don’t know. So if I were to walk around trying to say that I knew for a fact that gods don’t exist, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought me to be somewhat dishonest…
So no, I can’t be 100% certain that some sort of “creative force”, or whatever, doesn’t exist.
But please… tell me… why does that mean I’m not an atheist?
Just because I don’t know doesn’t mean I can’t decide whether or not I believe in a higher power… and the fact is, I don’t. I do not believe in a higher power. I do not believe that we were created by anything. I do not believe that the universe was created by anything. And because I do not believe, I am an atheist. Yes, I am an agnostic. But I am also an atheist.
You see, atheism is, simply translated, a lack of theism. And what is theism? The belief in a higher power or powers. Since I do not have that belief, I am an atheist.
Now yes… I know… modern dictionaries include definitions like “someone who rejects the existence of a higher power or powers”. This person is called a strong atheist, or a gnostic atheist. This person is also, in my humble opinion, an arrogant ignoramous. They are not such because they reject the existence of specifically Yahweh (the god Jews, Christians, and, yes, Muslims believe in)… hell, I outright reject the existence of Yahweh. Yahweh cannot logically exist. His attributes – omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent – are too contradictory, within themselves, with each other, and with the general state of creation itself. It’s pretty damn obvious to me that our lives are not micro-managed in any way by some higher personal sky-daddy who goes so far as to care who we get married to and what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms. So I’m quite certain that the god of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, Paul, and Muhammad does not now, nor ever did, exist.
The reason I think strong/gnostic atheists are arrogant ignoramouses is because they claim to know for certain that the entire God Hypothesis is bullshit, rejecting every single god concept ever seen. Now, I’m fine with ruling out personal deities (in general, personal deities are either too human or too contradictory in description to exist… I think it’s safe to say that, if there is a god, it is not one that concerns itself with human affairs in any way, shape or form), but what about impersonal ones? Consider Pandeism. How can a person objectively rule this out when we don’t actually yet know what caused the Big Bang?
To take all this further, however, there is another reason strong/gnostic atheists are arrogant ignoramouses, and this applies just as much to strong/gnostic theists:
No one knows.
Now, to be clear, I do believe that we can know. In fact, I believe that, one day, we will know. It won’t happen in my lifetime… it probably won’t happen for hundreds of thousands of years… but one day, we will finally know, for a fact, whether or not there is a reality beyond what we know now. We will know, for a fact, if angels, demons, ghosts, devils, spirits, souls, and, yes, gods, exist.
The reason I believe this is because science is the tool we use to answer questions about the nature of reality, and the question “does God exist” is not just a question about the nature of reality, but the question. It is, perhaps, the most important question about the nature of reality that we have. And thus, it is a scientific question, and I do think we will eventually be able to answer it. Yes, there are questions science can’t answer (questions about the nature of our experiences), but that’s a different blog post.
That said, as of June 10, 2012, we do not know. We have not yet answered the question. We still do not know what caused the Big Bang. And we cannot claim to know until at least that question is answered.
And so, everyone is agnostic. Whether they want to admit it or not, every atheist and every theist in existence is functionally agnostic. This has always been true, and it will be true until we can actually answer the question.
I hate telling people that I’m an agnostic atheist for this very reason; the “agnostic” part is redundant, and should be assumed.
Now, I’m fully aware that there are people who call themselves “strictly” agnostic, and others who avoid the term “agnostic” like the plague. But I do not believe that agnosticism is a middle-ground between atheism and theism, because atheism and theism are not knowledge claims. They are statements of belief (in the case of atheism, a statement of the lack of belief). As such, the words “gnostic” and “agnostic” are qualifiers. I don’t believe gnostic applies right now, but there you go.
So why am I an atheist, then? If I don’t know for sure, why do I not believe?
The main problem is infinite regress. Most believers ultimately come to this idea that the universe, and us, are too complex to have just popped into existence. They use this as evidence of a higher power.
The problem is, they are using what’s called a double standard. They do not apply this same line of thinking to God, when they should. And it should apply because any creator would have to be infinitely more complex than the universe and all within it in order to create it.
For starters, God has to be corporeal in order to interact with reality. Already, that’s complexity. God would also have to have the power to create. Even more complex. Then, God would have to have the knowledge of how to use that power and an understanding of what he/she/it was creating, which means imagination. This god also has to have the imagination to come up with, and the knowledge to understand, all the laws of nature and physics and the quantum world. And if we’re talking about Yahweh, it gets even worse, because he has to have the ability to interact with us on a daily basis, answering prayers and whatnot. But even if we’re just talking about the Pandeistic concept, the principle still stands: any god concept would have to be many orders of magnitude more complex than the universe and all within it in order to create it all.
So if the idea that we’re too complex to have happened by chanced is true, then the same must apply to our creator, which means our creator has to have a creator… the problem is, that would go on forever.
The other problem I have with the God Hypothesis is that the deity is always supreme. It created even time. But the problem with this is that time is not a finite property. If there is no time, then when did God create? Time is required for action. No time, no space. No space, no movement. No movement, no action. It becomes very clear that time cannot have been created, but has always existed. So there is at least one thing that was around before God. But see, without time, there is no space. Which means we now have two things that existed before God; both time and space. But then, what about matter? Matter is, of course, a form of energy. And you need both as a material in order to create universes, stars, planets, and life. But if there’s no matter or energy, then what did God use to create it?
And now we have time, space, matter, and energy all having to exist forever in order for there to be existence in the first place.
So space, time, matter, and energy have to have existed forever. Add that to the Problem of Complexity, as it were, and the entire God Hypothesis runs into some severe roadblocks. You end up with gods that are really nothing more than hyper-advanced aliens. I know that a tiny amount of people are fine with this, but most aren’t, especially considering what the word “god” implies.
So no, I can’t say that it was Darwin’s Theory of Evolution that made me an atheist. It was learning about the natural universe in general (including evolution), learning what time is, and what space is, that made me an agnostic atheist.
My being a skeptic and naturalist are incidental, and came later.
But there you go. Please stop telling me that I’m not an atheist. That is not for you to decide, because you are not now, nor have you ever been, me. I know what I am. I know what I believe and what I don’t believe.
You are right that I’m an agnostic. But you’re wrong that I’m not an atheist.
I am both. I am an agnostic atheist.
And I am damn proud of it.