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Agnosticism (Greek: agnostos; "unknowable") is the position that the existence and nature of a god or gods are unknown or unknowable. Although most agnostics also feel that it's intellectually indefensible to make a strong assertion one way or another, this is not the basis for agnosticism. Apatheism, or a 50/50 split which views God's existence and non-existence as being exactly equiprobable, are separate measurements.
In theory, agnosticism is compatible with all but the most dogmatic of religious faiths, but in practice most agnostics are perceived as godless. Agnostics simply believe that there is insufficient evidence to prove that there is a god, and that if one exists, the origin and nature of such a god are unknown or unknowable. Simply put, agnosticism merely asserts that we lack the knowledge to determine whether or not a god exists. It differs from atheism and theism by being a position addressing a lack of knowledge, rather than a lack of belief.
Additionally, most agnostics be categorized depending on how their beliefs work out in practice, whether they're more atheistic or theistic, through a theistic probability scale.
Agnostic atheism holds that insufficient evidence exists to disprove a god. Agnostic atheists lean towards atheism, particularly in practice, but acknowledge that they could be wrong. The difference between atheism and agnostic atheism is subtle and may not be always be discernible, though agnostic atheists are generally more tolerant of the religious than more convinced atheists.
The distinction between agnostic atheism and atheism is further blurred as most, if not all, atheists are in fact agnostic atheists - as rational thinking people would certainly stop being atheists if they encounter evidence of God's existence that was sufficient for them. There is a prevalence of fundamentalist theists, but it is far rarer, if not impossible, to find fundamentalist atheists who would stick to their beliefs in the face of sufficient evidence. Thus, if accepting the belief "there probably is no God, I'll act as if there's no God, but will change my mind if necessary", it's really just a matter of personal preference whether to identify as an "agnostic atheist" or just plain simple "atheist".
There is also agnostic theism, which maintains a belief in god, but acknowledges uncertainty regarding the characteristics of that god. Some theist agnostics are also Deists, believing that God created the universe but is irrelevant to the workings of it. Believing agnostics often identify themselves as fideists, a term coined by Martin Gardner (a theist himself) for people who choose to believe in God because it comforts them and not for intellectual reasons.
Somewhat snarky views of agnosticism
An atheist's opinion
An agnostic is someone too intelligent to believe in gods but too cowardly to be an atheist. A secondary opinion is that since an agnostic lacks belief in any gods anyway, they are, well, an atheist.
A theist's opinion
An agnostic is someone too intelligent to be a closed minded, outright atheist but too cowardly to believe and commit to belief in gods. A secondary opinion is that since an agnostic is prepared to believe in gods in principle, they are, well, a theist.
An agnostic's opinion
Finally, there is the "pragmatic agnostic", who muses (at length):
“”The existence or nonexistence of God is unprovable either way (in this life anyway). Since there's enough to worry about in life as it is (the ever escalating price of eggs, what to do with all those old magazines, the goat problem), I'm not even remotely interested in addressing unprovable concepts, and I certainly don't intend to kill myself to find out for certain, since I've got the goat problem to deal with right now. So debating the existence of God is a total waste of my time and if I did debate it, there's no way to know what the right answer is, which would drive me around the bend if I'd put all that energy into it. The only thing I definitely can or can't say about God is that, if he exists, he either doesn't seem to care much about us or wants us to figure things out for ourselves. Either way, the point is, it doesn't seem to matter much whether he does or doesn't exist, and if he is anything like the religious folk tell me he is and wants to punish me for all eternity for a bit of healthy skepticism (given how little evidence he provides for himself), well then frankly he sounds like a right prick and I want very little to do with him.
And while I'm on about it, many of those who do believe in God seem to be bonkers and desperately want to convert or kill people who believe in different Gods, or no Gods. So it doesn't even seem like a good idea to begin with, and as far as I can see, belief in God has only brought human misery, pain and death into the world. (Mind you, it does seem to have made some of the best art, which is interesting, so thank you for that, God-people, but you need to do better these days than that Christian Rock bullshit, which really really really sucks badly, not only in principle but in practice). One thing I do know, that can't be the music of the Antichrist because his shit is wicked tight.So that's it then - I have no idea why anyone would even bother thinking about this, you might as well think about camping on the Moon (the gray dust in the hard-boiled eggs would suck) - anyway, I'm certainly neither bothered nor interested, and don't see why you all get your knickers in a twist over this God business. No Sirree. Better things to do with my time than answer pointless irrelevant questions. Now, what am I going to do about the damn goat situation?
- About.com - Fundamentalist atheists; they don't exist
- An illustration can be found on the internets here.
- A more reasonable version can be found here
[[Category:Atheism]] [[Category:Key concepts in atheism]] [[Category:Philosophy]] [[Category:Religion]] [[Category:Religious terms]]