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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?

See results
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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?

See results

© 2011 Kylyssa Shay

What Are Your Thoughts on the Term Agnostic Atheist? - Moderated Family Friendly Guestbook

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    • Paladin_ profile image


      5 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I've finally had the chance to begin catching up on reading some of the articles by some of my favorite Hubbers, and came across this very articulate and useful hub. Well done, Kylyssa!

      I've been explaining this distinction for years now, and it's good to see others shedding light on it as well. It seems to be a job that never ends!

      I also consider myself an agnostic atheist (as well as an "anti-theist"). My particular explanation is that I'm as certain as a human can possibly be that God doesn't exist, but I simply can't be 100% sure (nor can anyone else -- believer or not).

      When you've literally spent decades examining the so-called 'evidence' and arguments for God's existence (and found them all unconvincing) -- and once you've reached the point where you hear nothing but the same arguments over and over -- sooner or later, reason dictates that you reach some inevitable conclusion (at least within the confines of current human knowledge).

      That's the point where I and many atheists currently stand. If someone were to actually come along with some new or unique argument or evidence, I believe I can speak for most atheists when I say I would certainly give it an honest and thorough examination, and perhaps even reconsider that aforementioned conclusion!

    • aidenw profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      This is an interesting article. I wasn't even aware of such a term. Now I can say I am an agnostic atheist too.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I myself am an agnostic atheist. You can never be 100% certain, however i am almost that certain that none of the existing religions have gotten the concept of God right. If one does exist, it is probably something no human being has ever experienced before and is not within our reach, and the truth is, that we may never know. Also, in my opinion, it doesn't really matter. Humans seem to have outsmarted the god characters of religions anyway.

    • Kylyssa profile imageAUTHOR

      Kylyssa Shay 

      8 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      @anonymous: An interesting belief. Agnostic and atheist aren't mutually exclusive. Agnosticism is a knowledge position. Gnostics are absolutely certain their beliefs are true; agnostics do not claim absolute certainty. Both theists and atheists can be agnostic. People who have no opinion one way or another as to whether or not God exists are straight-up agnostics. You'd be more likely to encounter a gnostic theist than a gnostic atheist.Most atheists I've met are agnostic atheists. In my case that means I'd never state with absolute 100% certainty that God doesn't exist, not even Dawkins does. It also means that if God were to do a little tap dance on my coffee table I'd probably change my mind about His existence unless I'd just had a bad medication interaction or recently suffered a blow to the head.In answer to the question you asked in your other comment, comments on this page are moderated, otherwise I may wake up to a page full of profanity on this rated G website. I can't watch it 24/7.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I like to think that I'm not atheist because I believe in "ancestral memory" and that the "gods" of our ancestors are the resume our behaviour as humans, and these archetype are present in our lives, Day by day,I don't believe in one god, but I believe in archetypies, then I think I'm agnostic, not atheist, though, I'd rather be atheist, Pure and simple.

    • TheGutterMonkey profile image

      The Gutter Monkey 

      9 years ago

      While I have no problem with the term Agnostic Atheist, for myself I simply prefer to use the term Atheist. As you've mentioned, it's rare you'll find an atheist who states positively that they know there's no god. Usually they simply don't know and can find no reason to believe in such things. And if you don't know, then you can't believe (at least not yet); and not believing is, of course, what being an atheist is. So in a way, being an agnostic is pretty much the same as being an atheist (just with less taboo attached to the name).The definitions of these things are so mixed up and intertwined that it's ridiculous. Technically speaking most atheists could probably be called an Atheist or an Atheist Agnostic or just an Agnostic it's madness! lol

    • Kylyssa profile imageAUTHOR

      Kylyssa Shay 

      9 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      @Edutopia: The problem with just using the word agnostic is that it's only the knowledge position not the belief position. An agnostic could be straight up agnostic, an agnostic theist, or an agnostic atheist. However, most people I've met take agnostic to mean one searching for God or for one split exactly halfway between belief and non-belief. It leads to an awful lot of conversion attempts.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I don't have a problem with the definition for the term but feel that people should simplify things and just go with Agnostic.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm really glad to see that someone has taken the time to explain what an Agnostic atheist is, and find this to be a well worded text with a really great explanation of the concept, The one thing i feel is off is the poll however, the question is valid, but the wording is off as i see it. An Agnostic atheist is someone who doesn't believe in god, hense the atheist, but at the same time doesn't claim to have knowledge that can prove or disprove that there might be a god. As i see it a more correct wording would be "A person who doesn't believe in god, but doesn't claim that one does not excist"As i see it the agnostic part of the agnostic atheist, means that the person does not claim to be smart enough to prove that there is or is not a god.


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