January 21, 2014

Reader Questions About Agnosticism and Atheism

Part of Image:Planetary society.jpg Original c...
Carl Sagan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I receive more correspondence via email than I can answer. While some of it is hate mail from enraged Christians, Muslims, or other atheists, some of it is the sort of thing I wish I had more time to answer. With that in mind, I'd like to provide brief responses to two questions I received from a reader via email. I figured if I was going to take the time to do so, I might as well turn it into a brief post.

Here were the questions:
  1. What's the difference between atheism and agnosticism?
  2. Also, why atheism? Why not deism or romanticism or pantheism...? You know, why this belief over somewhat (kinda, sorta) similar ones?
The first question about the difference between atheism and agnosticism is a common one. The short version is that they are answers to different questions. Atheism is an answer to the question of whether one believe in god(s); agnosticism is an answer to the level of certainty one claims with regard to the existence of gods. The diagram pictured here should help. I also addressed this previously in a post called Understanding Atheism and Agnosticism.

The second question seems to be a more personal one about why I selected atheism over the other options mentioned. It is my understanding that these other options all posit god(s), meaning that they all make the theistic belief claim. I do not see any evidence that justifies this claim, and so, I am an atheist. Another way to say it would be to say that I find no more evidence for pantheism, deism, etc. as I do for monotheism.

I agree with Carl Sagan's assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that any sort of god or gods exist is truly extraordinary. Not only do I not find extraordinary evidence to suggest such entities exist; I find no evidence whatsoever that they do.

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