Today atheism is widely recognized as an untenable position. It is simply too large of burden to provide enough evidence to defend the positive statement, “God does not exist”. As a result of this understanding, there has been a movement within the atheist community to redefine terms in order to avoid this large burden of proof.
“Agnostic atheist” is the term self applied by many atheists today. It refers to a person who, rather than adopting the positive view, “God does not exist” has instead chosen the apparently more modest view that they simply do not accept the claim, “God exists.”
We know that one of the following statements is in reality true:
a) God exists.
b)God does not exist.
Although either (a) is true or (b) is true, there are three beliefs about them that a person can hold:
- A person can believe (a) is true and he does this by thinking (a) is more likely true than not true, i.e. he has a greater than 50% certainty of it’s truth. This position is theism.
- A person can believe (b) is true by thinking (b) is more likely true than not true, i.e. he has a greater than 50% certainty in its truth. This position is atheism.
- A person can believe (a) and (b) are equally likely, i.e. he holds them both with a 50% certainty. This position is agnosticism.
What’s interesting is that a person’s decision about any one of these options has unavoidable implications on their view of the other two points. A person cannot reject (1) without accepting (2) and rejecting (3).
Rejection of (1) is equivalent to the acceptance of (2) and this is the relevant fact that the agnostic atheist attempts to circumnavigate. The agnostic atheist attempts to reject (1) without fully adopting (2), thereby avoiding the responsibility of defending (2). But if in the actual world, either (a) or (b) is true, then to reject the view that God exists is to necessarily accept the view that God does not exist. There is no in-between position available to them. There is no refuge in agnosticism since that would mean believing theism and atheism are equally likely – and they have just rejected theism!
Four possible objections:
i.)This is a false choice. The issue is not binary. “God exists” and “God does not exist” are not the only options available.
It seems reasonable to believe that a thing either exists or does not exist. Even if God were different than we imagined – half as powerful or half as good for example – it wouldn’t be the case that he only half-exists. Either he exists or he does not.
ii.)A rejection of the evidence and the arguments for (a) does not necessarily mean you reject (a) itself.
It’s true that you can reject (a), while still believing it might ultimately be true. (You can reject bad arguments for true propositions). But if you reject the current arguments and evidence for (a) then you have no reason to believe (a) – perhaps you will become an agnostic, but most who have rejected the arguments for (a) do not consider (a) and (b) equally likely.
iii.)What prevents me from rejecting (a) without yet forming an opinion on (b)?
If you believe that either (a) or (b) is true, and you believe (a) is false, then (b) necessarily has to be true.
iv.)I am not “rejecting” the arguments of theism. I am merely “not accepting” them.
I see no practical difference between the terms. You reject an argument by not accepting the argument.
Ultimately, any self proclaimed “agnostic atheist” should ask themselves which of these two statements they honestly believe is more likely true: “God exists” or “God does not exist.” If it’s the latter, then they must defend their belief accordingly.