Agnostic vs. Atheist

Agnostics claim either that it is not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge of God or gods; or, alternatively, that while individual certainty may be possible, they personally have no knowledge of a supreme being.

Atheists have a position that either affirms the nonexistence of gods or rejects theism. When defined more broadly, atheism is the absence of belief in deities, alternatively called nontheism. Although atheists are commonly assumed to be irreligious, some religions, such as Buddhism, have been characterized as atheistic because of their lack of belief in a personal god.

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Position An agnostic believes it is impossible to know if god(s) exist ("Strong Agnosticism"), or believes that the answer may in principle be discovered, but is currently not known ("Weak Agnosticism"). Some agnostics feel that the answer is not important. An atheist believes that god(s) do not exist ("Strong Atheism") or does not believe in the existence of any known deities but does not explicitly assert there to be none ("Weak Atheism").
Argument An agnostic disbelieves assertions that the existence of a deity or deities has been demonstrated, but also disbelieves assertions that the nonexistence of a deity or deities has been demonstrated. An atheist disbelieves assertions of the existence of a deity or deities and believes the burden of proof is on those who say there is a god.
Specific types Agnostic atheism, a.k.a., negative, weak, or soft atheism; agnostic theism; apathetic or pragmatic agnosticism; strong agnosticism; weak agnosticism. Agnostic atheism, a.k.a., negative, weak, or soft atheism; gnostic atheism, a.k.a., positive, strong, or hard atheism; apatheism, a.k.a., pragmatic or practical atheism; implicit atheism; explicit atheism.
Life after death Unknown. No or unsure.
Coined by Thomas Henry Huxley. Ephesians 2:12 reference in New Testament. Greek word aqeoß.
Etymology Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-, "not") +γιγνώσκω (gignōskō, "I know"). From Greek ''atheos'' "without god, denying the gods; godless" from a- "without" + theos "a god".
Important Figures Thomas Jefferson, Carl Sagan, Piers Anthony, Susan B Anthony. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett.

Contents: Agnostic vs Atheist

edit What Do Agnostics and Atheists Believe?

Atheists do not believe in god(s) or religious doctrines. They do not believe an afterlife, whether positive or negative, is at all likely based on available evidence. Prayer is seen as unhelpful, even if well-meaning, with atheists believing humans are responsible for their own well-being (or destruction). Some go further and actively dislike theism, believing that religion has a net negative effect on humanity. People in this group are sometimes called anti-theists.

Agnostics have a vaguer sense of (dis)belief, feeling uncertain about the existence or nonexistence of god(s). While some agnostics believe that they are personally uncertain, others believe it is impossible for anyone to prove or disprove the existence of God. Apathetic agnostics believe the question of the existence of God is irrelevant and unimportant.

Occasionally, atheists and agnostics butt heads over their chosen labels, with atheists criticizing the agnostic label as being too wishy-washy and agnostics criticizing the atheist label for being too divisive in a world filled with religious people.

Many, though not all, atheists and agnostics consider themselves skeptics, freethinkers, and secular humanists, and tend to reject spiritual or pseudoscientific explanations for what they view as scientifically explainable phenomena. However, though they may often shun spiritual explanations, 82% say they still experience spiritual moments where they feel a deep connection to nature and the planet.[1]

Political views vary among agnostics and atheists, but a majority are Democratic-leaning independents who are strong supporters of the separation between church and state. In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, 65% of unaffiliated voters voted for Barack Obama, compared to 27% who voted for Mitt Romney.[2]

edit Spectrum of (Dis)Belief

Agnosticism and atheism are often viewed in terms of how "weak" or "strong," "soft" or "hard," they are — as in, how strong one's convictions are about the issues in question. Richard Dawkins, a famous and controversial evolutionary biologist and atheist, expounded upon this concept, creating a seven-point scale regarding belief in his bestselling book, The God Delusion. This scale is meant to show that belief runs on a spectrum, that many religious people are not fundamentalists (a one on the scale), and that many non-religious people are not "strong" atheists (a seven on the scale). Dawkins' scale is reprinted below:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God’s existence and nonexistence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."

Dawkins has stated he is a "6.9" on the scale.[3]

edit Who Are Agnostics and Atheists?

About 16% of the world's population is unaffiliated with a religious faith. Countries with large nonreligious population include China, the Czech Republic, France, Iceland, and Australia.[4]

Depending on polling questions, 15-20% of Americans are nonreligious, and over 30% do not regularly attend religious services or feel religion is very important (whether they otherwise identify with a religion or not).[5] Just over one third of all Americans under 30 consider themselves nonreligious. Among scientists, these numbers increase dramatically, with around 50% being nonreligious. The "nones" are somewhat more likely to be young, male, educated, white, and unmarried. They are also more likely to live in the West.

While the rise of the nones is significant, relatively few among the unaffiliated choose to adopt a specific label for their disbelief or disinterest. Nearly 20% of Americans said they were unaffiliated in 2012, but only 3.3% called themselves agnostic, and even fewer, 2.4%, called themselves atheist. The majority of unaffiliated people, 13.9%, identify as "nothing in particular."

Click to enlarge. Pew Research statistics showing the number of "unaffiliated" people around the world and how many unaffiliated people in the U.S. label themselves as either agnostic or atheist.
Click to enlarge. Pew Research statistics showing the number of "unaffiliated" people around the world and how many unaffiliated people in the U.S. label themselves as either agnostic or atheist.

edit How Religions View Disbelief

Religious texts usually have an unfavorable view of nonbelievers. The New and Old Testaments of the Bible advise believers to "be merciful to those who doubt," while also calling nonbelievers "corrupt" and their "deeds" vile. In Revelation, nonbelievers are grouped in with murderers, the "sexually immoral," sorcerers, and liars, all of whom will be sent to hell. The Qur'an is similarly aggressive toward those who do not believe, saying nonbelievers will face punishment, that they should not be befriended, and that they are destined for hell.

With the world's largest religions sometimes opposed to disbelief, it has often been dangerous for nonreligious people to openly discuss their skepticism and disbelief, particularly of a dominant religion. This is especially true in nations with apostasy and blasphemy laws that make disbelief or alternative belief illegal and punishable by fines, time in prison, or even death. As recently as 2012, there were seven countries in the world where, by law, atheists had fewer rights, could be imprisoned, or could be executed.[6]

Such laws (and similar cultural norms) are sometimes enforced. For example, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been publicly whipped for the cyber crime of "insulting Islam" on his website ("Free Saudi Liberals") and for "disobeying his father." He may yet be beheaded. Similarly, in Bangladesh, an atheist blogger was "hacked to death with machetes" for his pro-secular writing.

Percentage of countries where blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion can result in a variety of penalties, including imprisonment or death. Image from Pew Research.
Percentage of countries where blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion can result in a variety of penalties, including imprisonment or death. Image from Pew Research.

Along with Muslims, the unaffiliated — in particular, atheists — are the most distrusted, if sizable, minority in the U.S. Polls have consistently shown that atheists are viewed more negatively than religious people, LGBT members, and racial minorities. Most recently, Pew Research released surveys on how various religious and political groups viewed atheists. In most all cases, a majority of all religious groups disliked atheists, and conservatives overwhelmingly said they would be "unhappy" if an immediate family member married an atheist.[7]

People from most religions do not like the unaffiliated, particularly those who label themselves atheists. Image from Pew Research.
People from most religions do not like the unaffiliated, particularly those who label themselves atheists. Image from Pew Research.

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Comments: Agnostic vs Atheist

Anonymous comments (25)

April 21, 2014, 3:32pm

Agnostic is just that, whereas theists/atheists are gnostic. The agnostic has made up their mind to not make assumptions. However, I appreciate faith with rewards/punishment in the afterlife because at least those people are playing the lottery.

— 152.✗.✗.253

March 29, 2014, 2:11am

I asked God, Juanita. Haven't heard back yet. Must be busy.

— 166.✗.✗.17

February 11, 2014, 2:21am

It's sad how truly brainwashed people are. It's even more sad that people with a "god" can't respect how other people think and feel and go on with their disrespectful views. Maybe you should do what your god "guides" and enjoy people who have good morals and values and know that you don't need a higher power to control that. Until then, your views should be kept to yourself. Because they are just fine, for you.

— 98.✗.✗.174

March 30, 2014, 4:47am

Have any of you heard of the sumerian tablets? These are clay tablets that were written 4000 years before the bible, and has some of the same stories as the bible. These tablets tells a whole different story than the bible. I would suggest to everyone to read them, it is an eye opener.

— 37.✗.✗.227

November 26, 2013, 7:32pm

wow opinion....aliens came to earth millions of years ago and dumb humans then thought they were super i think the aliens are just hiding and observing us wild humans(always with the WARS AND SH*T) secretly ...u know like scientists observing wild knows maybe we myt be the beginning of their new inventions and stuff...


hence proof that ppl can make up shit,,,if i teach this to my new born kid and force him to think questing is bad,,i myt be able to start sumthing new for ppl to discuss after millions years or so when they start doubtin it HEHEHE

— 115.✗.✗.98

July 15, 2013, 3:24am

To everyone above/below:
1 if you are an atheist do not worry about other religions they should not bug you
2 christians who say "I am sorry for you" are doing what they think is right so give them a break and I know we can be hypocrites but hey we are not perfect but that is in the eye of the beholder
3 agnostics you dont have to look for god
we all can say whatever we want and we all have our differences in how we act toward whatever we believe in we all just want a trust in something there
god and science
that is all

— 108.✗.✗.215

July 9, 2013, 12:48pm

Frankly, I would feel much happier if my kids worshiped the Princesses from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. They dole out much better life lessons and "commandments" through the Elements of Harmony. (i.e. Kindness, Loyalty, Generosity, Honesty, Laughter, Magic (a.k.a. Love)). The Friendship Reports are also fantastic parables showing how to put the Elements of Harmony into practice. I'm agnostic, so if I can choose my afterlife, I want to go to Equestria.

— 198.✗.✗.130

May 20, 2013, 7:01pm

Atheist accept their belief system on faith

— 67.✗.✗.19

February 6, 2013, 2:39am

I don't understand why some people on here are on here arguing whether God/Jesus/Whoever exists and are attempting to persuade people to their beliefs. I came here because I honestly didn't know the specific differences between the two words and just wanted the information. My beliefs and everyone else's are irrelevant. It's informative, and not meant to cause people to force their beliefs on each other.

— 24.✗.✗.194

May 31, 2011, 4:28pm

It's important to note that these are not mutually exclusive positions. Most atheists are also agnostic. Their position on deities is much the same as their position on werewolves: there is a presumption of nonexistence, but also an understanding that it isn't really possible to prove it.

— 64.✗.✗.121

April 25, 2014, 12:58am

Christianity = an extention of Judaism. Drop it so the Zionist blinders can come off!

— 24.✗.✗.42

January 29, 2014, 9:43pm

So how are you breathing, & how did you get here, where did the world come from...all the animals, etc. Anyone worshipping the Devil, is just plan Dumb. I'm just saying. I love The Lord, & he is Almighty!

— 66.✗.✗.105

January 26, 2014, 9:27pm


— 82.✗.✗.206

September 28, 2013, 4:19am

I believe if you are going to comment on anything you should make sense. When typing this, the next persons comment makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It isn't even proper English.
To believe or not believe in a higher power is the right of everyone. To each his own! What is true for me, may not and is not, the truth for everyone. We are not here on earth to all think the same way, believe the same things. How boring would that be?

— 71.✗.✗.114

September 2, 2013, 5:26pm

basically agnostic is someone that read on two argument and happily haven't made is mind up. I always thought that was atheist someone without religion only later i discovered that atheist "believe" that god(s) doesn't exists, which like it or not atheist that a religion, so believe in god(s) or not you are religions.

— 188.✗.✗.216

July 20, 2013, 1:23pm

I find that there is no wrong or right way about someone's beliefs. Either someone is agnostic, atheist, catholic , Buddhist , etc that's their right to believe in whichever religion or no religion at all. I think I find myself at a stand point trying to figure out what religion I am . I do believe in some parts of the bible but them again I don't believe in healing power.. I don't believe that we can heal no matter how holy we are . I belied that only God has the power to heal and he heals who he thinks should be healed. I guess you can say I'm agnostic in a way. Say what you want or feel about this post .. It's not meant to offend but just to give my opinion

— 166.✗.✗.30

July 20, 2013, 7:14am

I never got too much into religion as a kid although I was brought up catholic. Now that I'm older I know fersure that I'm agnostic. I keep to myself about it and that's how it should be! Let everyone believe what they want

— 99.✗.✗.42

July 1, 2013, 5:51pm

Atheist myself and I would like to add that just because I excluded myself from religion does not mean I had a traumatic experience, I just became realistic. I think that as individuals we don't give ourselves enough credit for all the great things we do and can do. I think that it doesn't matter what we believe in, we just need to reflect each other. .. nobody really knows. .

— 208.✗.✗.153

May 29, 2013, 4:52pm

Agnostic myself but the following thoughts of others sums up the way I feel about this issue-

That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget. Jean-Paul Sartre

When I look upon seamen, men of science and philosophers, man is the wisest of all beings; when I look upon priests and prophets nothing is as contemptible as man. Diogenes

I do not know whether there are gods, but there ought to be.

— 81.✗.✗.5

May 29, 2013, 4:43am

I don't know about the bible saying Adam and even where the first humans how are they so many raze colors how people dint know humans existed in the new word and name us indians force us into cristianity by destroying our temples reaping our womans all this with violence with turn our lands our belives and languages and dignity to the Bible or any other religion could of come and force us to become wath

— 66.✗.✗.193

March 27, 2013, 3:44am

ummm because we were trying to figure the difference between those of you who say you're atheist and those who say they are agnostic. i believe in God but I am not some preaching Christian and I hardly ever go to church. It will be so interesting when each of us finds out what really is someday... I love how we all think we're right and hate each other because we disagree.. so loving..

— 71.✗.✗.205

March 18, 2013, 11:43am

Why would anyone who believes be on a non-believing site. Go preach somewhere else!!

— 37.✗.✗.8

February 25, 2013, 8:15pm

well it started when someone who does believe in God gets on their high horse and starts handing out life lessons to tell us how miserable we must be without God. I came to this site to show my co-worker the difference between the two and we went through the comments, and laughed because nobody has anything to prove to anyone. and nothing will change their mind. its funny how clueless people sound trying to explain how God is among us though.

— 138.✗.✗.41

January 28, 2013, 5:39am

God forces no one to believe.
Although, I think it's funny whether it's a new subatomic particle or hot dense matter or energy or radiation that the so-called Big Bang started from had already existed. So the Big Bang wasn't really the start and occured much later when the already existing universe was hot and dense. Hmmm I think your science needs some work. Try again or open your eyes. The answer is staring at you, but no one is forcing you to believe.

— 66.✗.✗.144

January 23, 2013, 6:42pm

why r we fighting,screaming over others beliefs????

one may be a atheist, agonist, christian, Muslim, Jew , Hindu, Buddhist etc.....

but are not we human being after all???

will world problem (hate,prejudice) solve ..if all world population became a member out of those one community ?????

is not it some kind of soft supremacist idea( faith & /or non-belief) after all???

there will be diversity in the world at terms of faith.....

please don't support any kind of supremacist idea...

In diversity..there will be unity of humanity in the world....

thank u

— 116.✗.✗.69


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