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Discussion 2 to Talk Back 73
Re: Agnosticism vs. Atheism

by: Sandy M.

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Another attempt to differentiate between Agnosticism and Atheism?  An exercise in semantics?

In a previous discussion I made the observation that if a Theist is defined as a person (or entity or whatever) possessing belief in god (several further definitions required here but humour me) then and Atheist, following an assumed convention that prefixing a noun defining possession with an ‘A’ denotes non possession then an atheist is a person who does not possess such a belief. This definition offers no wriggle room.  If you don’t know (or care) whether god exists then you are an atheist.

Agnosticism, as I understand it, is a school of thought holding that nothing can be said to be true (and hence be believed in) unless it is materially provable.  It is applied to the existence or otherwise of god by linguistic convention but is really a method rather than a position.  Applying it to the theistic debate would, unless you hold that you can materially prove for god, make you an atheist.

As for probability, I don’t  think there is that much validity in the 50/50 argument in this case.  If I buy a UK lottery ticket then, applying this logic, I have a 50% chance of winning; there are only two options – I either win or I don’t.  Of course in fact there are a lot more options than this, my particular set of numbers come up or one of the other 13 million combinations do.  My chances of winning reduce dramatically, and become more in line with experience.

Thinking in this way about the theistic argument brings an important conclusion; the unjustified primacy of “god”.  There are in fact a virtually infinite ways of explaining the things that god is invoked to explain, reducing the random chance of it being the explanation in line with the experience of observing the universe to virtually zero.

So, semantics or not theism is a binary property.  Which side of the line you are on depends on how much probability to you need to believe, or whether you care about probability at all.