Atheism, Agnosticism, and Why They Matter

An+atheist+does+not+need+to+believe+in+a+deity+to+see+the+beauty+of+the+world. photos OD9EOzfSOh0

An atheist does not need to believe in a deity to see the beauty of the world.

At a Catholic school, the last thing you’ll hear about is the possibility that God doesn’t exist. But atheists and agnostics are everywhere, and it’s important to understand what they think and their reasons for these thoughts.

In short, an atheist doesn’t believe in divinity, and an agnostic thinks that he can neither prove nor disprove divinity’s existence. Contrary to what many think, atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be both at the same time, or one but not the other.

So, a Christian might be a gnostic theist, who both believes in God and believes that he knows for sure that God exists.

An agnostic theist is someone who believes in a god but doesn’t think he can know for sure that that god exists. Yet, he believes without needing proof.

An agnostic atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in divinity, but he leaves open the possibility that a god might exist after all; he just doesn’t have any proof to know for certain. In this sense, he might say that it is unlikely that a god exists, and it is a much better idea to disbelieve rather than believe.

But a gnostic atheist knows for sure that there is no divinity and thus cannot believe.

Gnosis (Greek for knowledge) is what you know, and theism (from theos, Greek for god) or lack thereof is how you go about it.

Now, the idea of the “burden of proof” can come up in religious debates. In a wider sense, it means that the person who wants to prove something must provide evidence to back up his claim. However, someone who is not trying to prove that thing does not have to give evidence to justify that position. In discussions about the existence of divinity, this can appear in a couple ways. One must provide proof if he wants to prove God’s existence, but one must also provide proof if he wants to prove God’s nonexistence for certain. People who aren’t arguing anything have nothing that they need to support with evidence. So, agnosticism is nothing that must be justified, but gnosticism (knowing for sure) must be justified. (Note that “gnosticism” here does not refer to that set of early Christian beliefs decried as heretical.) Lack of evidence about the existence of the divine leads some people to lack belief in God, though lack of evidence does not always cause this.

Atheists and agnostics have many responses to religious arguments, often showing that the religious are using logical fallacies to produce flawed arguments. For example, they say that the Bible can’t prove the existence of the Christian God because the texts were made by people, not divinity. They provide scientific explanations for so-called miracles. They use science to show that religion and God are not necessary to be a good person. They show how prayers go unanswered just as much as they go “answered,” showing how prayer is seemingly useless. The idea that the universe is too complex to not have been created by a higher intelligence can be refuted with the facts that things can be complicated by chance, and evolution, for example, produced stunning results thanks to billions of years of development. Atheism has a rich history of thought, and as with all religions anyone, religious or not, should examine its ideas in an effort to promote greater equity and tolerance.

A study by the Pew Research Center found some interesting statistics about atheists and agnostics. They were more likely than Christians to mention hobbies, travel, and money as giving their lives meaning. Both Christians and non-Christians often mentioned family as giving life meaning, though Christians mentioned it more. It seems that atheists and agnostics enjoy their earthly pursuits more, while Christians find more meaning from their beliefs. On average, atheists were also found to be more informed about religion than the average American, despite not believing. Atheists often find religion to be harmful to society and have far too prominent a role in politics. The Center saw that atheists face more opposition from American society than Muslims, Jews, or Christians face. Perhaps if people understood Atheist and Agnostic thoughts, they would perceive them more favorably.