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What Is an Agnostic Atheist?

Updated on August 5, 2016
Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa is an American atheist with high-functioning autism trying to navigate a mostly religious world with no well-beaten path to follow

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Soft-focus question mark in seafoam, blues, and purples | Source

Can Someone Be Both Agnostic and an Atheist?

The meanings of the words agnostic and atheist are frequently confused. Some people even think of agnostics as atheists who are just afraid to commit. Others see agnostics as people who are exactly 50/50 balanced between a belief in Jesus Christ and no belief at all. Still others believe it means someone who is seeking God. To those folks, the term agnostic atheist must be just so much gibberish.

Being an agnostic atheist is something which is indeed not only possible, but extremely common among atheists. Read on to learn more about what an agnostic atheist really is.

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Color spattered question mark in green, pink, purple, and black | Source

How Can a Person Be Both an Agnostic and an Atheist?

Don't atheists and agnostics believe different things?

If an agnostic is someone balanced 50/50 between belief in God and atheism; how can anyone be an agnostic atheist? First, let's get rid of the 50/50 idea straightaway. Forget about people teetering on fences. Agnosticism has nothing to do with percentages, but a great deal to do with knowledge and certainty.

The root word to agnostic is the word gnostic.

Gnosticism is a positive knowledge claim; it means knowing. The "a" added to agnosticism indicates a lack of a positive knowledge claim. The "a" in agnostic is much like the "a" in atheism; you can think of that "a" as the word "without" and have a pretty accurate view of what both agnostic and atheist mean, assuming you already know the words theist and gnostic.

If someone is absolutely certain of God's existence, he or she is what we'd call a gnostic theist. If someone is not absolutely, 100% certain of God's existence he or she would be called an agnostic theist.

Most atheists I know are agnostic atheists. That means that while they are atheists, they do not make a positive knowledge claim about God's non-existence. I have yet to meet (in person) a gnostic atheist. A gnostic atheist is one who is certain that no God exists. I am an agnostic atheist.

While I could just choose the label of agnostic to avoid all of the hatred directed toward atheists it has, in the past, caused people to make a steady stream of attempts at converting me based on their belief that agnostic equals one who is seeking belief in Jesus or one teetering on the brink of belief in Jesus.

What is an agnostic atheist?

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Spatter question mark in purple tones | Source

Why Bother Calling Yourself an Agnostic Atheist?

I think the reason the label agnostic atheist has become so popular among atheists is because the unflattering myths about non-believers tend to paint us all as gnostic atheists. It is a counter to the strawman popular among conservative Christian pundits, the atheist 100% certain Gods and Goddesses do not exist.

The rare gnostic atheist is the strawman many people have used to demonize all atheists when, in fact, most atheists are agnostic atheists. One thing I've heard over and over again is that atheism is a horribly arrogant position because one must know everything in the universe to be an atheist. What they are really talking about are the few, rare Gnostic atheists rather than the much more common agnostic atheist. And I highly doubt one needs to know everything in the universe to think fairly securely that one single thing isn't real.

Some people are choosing the term agnostic atheist to describe themselves because they are slowly "coming out" atheist and may have been known as agnostics for years before. A lot of atheists are moving away from the wishy-washy terms they may have used to protect themselves from discrimination and are seeking more accurate terms to describe their absence of belief in God. Agnostic atheist is a more accurate term for many.

The label of agnostic atheist starts conversations at any rate and, in my opinion, talking is always better than fighting.

Which Best Describes Your Belief?

Which of the following best describes what you believe?

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© 2011 Kylyssa Shay


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