Concept of the day:
Agnostic Atheism: as anyone fluent in the contemporary debate between atheists and theists knows, is common parlance among nonbelievers. Roughly, the idea here is that when one uses the term “atheist” they’re making reference to their belief, whereas when one uses the term “agnostic,” they’re making reference to their knowledge. In this way, so the argument goes, one can be an atheist in the sense that they don’t believe that God exists (or that they positively believe that God does not exist) but nevertheless be an agnostic in the sense that they don’t know, or claim to know, that God does not exist.
Further, there is an additional distinction that is made between soft (or weak) atheists and hard (or strong) atheists. On the one hand, soft atheists are those who claim only to lack belief in God. On the other hand, hard atheists are those who claim to know or believe that God does not exist.
Now, descriptively speaking, this taxonomy seems to correspond pretty closely to the way that many atheists now days construe their atheism. So, as far as semantics go, this seems correct. However, and I say this as an atheist, in terms of its philosophical rigor, this construal of atheism seems a bit lacking. To demonstrate this, try to imagine an atheist using the distinction between atheism and agnosticism, as well as the distinction between soft and hard atheism, with respect to any other conception of god apart from the standard, Western monotheistic conception. That would be peculiar, would it not? So, the question is why don’t we atheists bother to qualify our rejection of Zeus or Odin with the caveats of agnosticism and a mere lack of belief? And if we don’t need to do this, why, then, must we do this with respect to the god of Christianity?
Well, frankly, I don’t think we need to. The mere fact that I don’t know *for certain* that Zeus doesn’t exist does not mean that I have to be an agnostic with respect to his existence, any more than the fact that I can’t know for certain that I’m not just a brain in a vat means I have to be agnostic about whether or not I’m just a brain in a vat. In other words, the sort of certainty that agnostic atheists point to in order to distinguish between their atheism and their agnosticism is itself based on a rather sophomoric understanding of epistemology that is quickly done away with by the slightest of philosophical inquiry. I may not know for certain that God does not exist, but this is not at all to say that I’m not entirely rational in going ahead and affirming my belief in the nonexistence of God all the same. And I don’t have to call myself an agnostic while doing so.
Sources: Atheist Republic
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