Sunday, March 16, 2014

Agnostics are atheists

This is elementary, but something a lot of people still misunderstand. Agnosticism and atheism aren't mutually contradictory. I'm both an agnostic and an atheist, as are... well, all of the atheists I've ever met.

If you don't believe, you're a non-believer. It doesn't matter that you can't tell for sure if a fact claim is true or not. We can't tell for sure if any fact claims are true or not, since there's always an alternative explanation, however implausible. But we still believe or disbelieve such claims, based on the knowledge we've got.

What I really liked about this video, though, starts about three minutes in, where she explains how people tend to go through these various stages. You rarely find someone jumping right from theism into atheism. That's a difficult journey, and there are usually many rest stops along the way.

Agnosticism is usually one of those rest stops, even though, as Jaclyn points out, that's not an alternative to atheism. Other people might call themselves deists (which is just another religion, to my mind, not an alternative to theism).

It's not easy giving up what you've been raised from infancy to believe, especially when it promises eternal reward and threatens eternal torture. And many people are frightened not so much of hell, but of losing friends, family, and just the... warmth of their security blanket.

Obviously, what you want to label yourself is entirely up to you. But 'agnostic' doesn't actually refer to beliefs. Still, if you need that particular rest stop on the road to atheism, fine.

Likewise if you want to call yourself one of the 'Nones,' although most of them haven't actually given up the belief in magic. (But please, don't end your journey at a rest stop. Take a breather, if necessary, but then move on.)

What I want to encourage is evidence-based thinking - and thus to discourage faith-based thinking. Labels aren't nearly as important. They're not unimportant, you understand, but it's more important to get your head on straight.

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