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The Differences Between Atheism and Agnosticism

Updated on February 8, 2016
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With Atheism being described as a lack of a belief in a god or gods and Agnosticism being "Open to the interpretation of god" one would assume that the two are one and the same; after all, doesn't the wording lead to the conclusion that with Atheism should evidence be granted a belief would occur? Doesn't Agnosticism sound like the exact same thing?

The truth is that Atheism describes the state of mind of individuals that don't believe in god. Period. An Agnostic frequently claims that should evidence be provided they would believe in god and, in truth, Atheists would claim the exact same thing. However an Atheist actively seeks to discredit the idea of god.

A great many Atheists are people raised as Theists, be it Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, or any number of faiths. Raised in the grip of religious text and a certain lifestyle many of these Theists seek out answers to the texts and lifestyle they are raised around, leading them to unsatisfactory answers and Atheism.

Agnostics, on the other hand, are more commonly people raised without the pressures of religious life; they do not get up every Sunday for mass, do not have to pray throughout the day, and so they simply stay neutral, acknowledging a lack of evidence in god but refusing to discredit religious texts and the words of established authorities. Simultaneously, however, they do not ascribe to scientific theory, instead walking the middle path and refusing to become involved in debates between the two groups.

Because of the distinctions between "Atheism" and "Agnosticism" many group Atheists together, finding their viewpoints to be more aggressive and opinionated in comparison to their counterparts.

Essentially Agnostics will deem it impossible to commit to a belief, citing lack of evidence in any faiths, whereas Atheists will deny the existence of god or any other deities, still attempting to provide an answer despite this.

In many places, claiming Agnosticism will be considered "borderline", that is to say; refusing to commit to a belief in particular. Ironic considering that more aggression is shown both by and towards Atheists in general because of the belief that Atheism is a "refusal" to "accept" faith, rather than a "Disbelief" of faith.

Because of the subtleties of Agnosticism in comparison to Atheism many groups focus more attention towards Atheist arguments, further shadowing any Agnostic movements and allowing a certain level of obscurity that one claiming to be an Atheist could not afford.

Because of the less outspoken opinions of Agnosticism and the more prevalent belief that Atheists are less trustworthy many Atheists claim to be Agnostic, aware that with the opinion of their beliefs, or rather lack thereof, they may be judged unfairly whereas the lesser spoken of the two groups may afford a certain level of trust and provoke less aggression, essentially allowing them to speak their words with less judgment.

Simultaneously, however, many Agnostics feel overshadowed by this, as a common misconception is that Agnostics have "no opinion" on faith when in actuality they, themselves, demand certain answers and questions that even Atheists actively searching for answers may not think of.

A common example of an Atheist in particular would be someone that does not put any belief in the Christian god, however believes that Evolution is a conceivable scientific theory due to evidence, and acknowledges that were god to present proof of existence they may convert, accepting evidence of the deity and the actions in the bible.

An Agnostic, on the other hand, would not accept the proof of God before them, nor would they accept scientific theory, choosing instead to stay neutral between the two groups.

Because of these differences between the two groups many have claimed to be either Atheist or Agnostic, unaware that their own beliefs or lack thereof more closely align with the other group, whilst others have claimed to be neither, understanding that there are differences between the two stances but unable to reconcile with just what these differences are.

For those unable to reconcile with either faith based beliefs, Atheism or Agnosticism, many choose to identify as other terms and align with other groups. Among these alternate groups many times they refer to themselves as "Humanists", "Secularists", "Freethinkers" or "Skeptics".

These terms are not used to refer specifically to a belief or lack of a belief, but rather to integral parts, as listed below: -

  • Humanism - A stance that focuses on rationalism over dogma or superstition, choosing instead to focus on human beings instead of their personal beliefs and favoring evidence over belief.
  • Secularism - A stance that does not connect with any spiritual matters. (Religion, superstition, belief, etc.)
  • Freethinking - A stance that focuses on reason and evidence instead of either authority of pressure, preferring to form an opinion based on just what they can see rather than they can't.

It is possible to be a secular, humanist or freethinking Atheist or Agnostic, focusing on the specific points of a personal belief rather than the collective whole or overall result.

Certain Atheists or Agnostics share a similarity in that many admire certain stances in religion, such as familiar urgency or connectivity, and as such many people choose to adopt these specific points from the religion or follow certain edicts despite not believing in that specific faith, resulting in further confusion between the two terms.

Despite rumination and opinions neither Atheism nor Agnosticism has shown itself to have a particular grounding in a person's personal psychology, many people identifying as either Atheist or Agnostic choosing to perform charity work or go into health care and law enforcement, despite frequent claims to a "lack of morality".

It should be noted that a great deal more people in scientific professions identify as Atheist rather than Agnostic however, due to Atheists primarily focusing on a search for answers to fill the gaps, rather than a refusal to commit to a specific path.

Likewise it should be noted that more Agnostics seem to gravitate towards Philosophy, their refusal to commit to a specific group or belief leading to an outlier way of thinking that allows them to think "outside the box", as it were.

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