There has been much debate about the definition of atheist, and this is certainly not going to resolve the debate here at polyskeptic, but this article comes from many years of talking, writing, and thinking about this issue.


At minimum, atheism requires the lack of belief in any gods, but the term ranges to the claim that there is no god with a degree of certainty consistent with the limits of possible knowledge. So-called strong atheism, or the claim that there is no god, is an assertion of belief and not a claim to absolute certainty.

In a larger, more poetic sense atheism seems to me to be an appreciation of reality without need for a deity.

Theis XKCD comic epitomizes "agnostics" for me
click for source (XKCD)

What about agnosticism?

In my opinion, everyone is an agnostic, and so the term is redundant and useless.

My use of the term ‘agnostic’ is simply the admittance that one does not know, with absolute certainty, that no gods exist.  One can, therefore, be both agnostic and atheist.

One could eliminate certain concepts of god due to logical inconsistency.  One can also eliminate many more gods based upon their astronomical unlikeliness, given what we do know about the universe via our empirical (and thus ultimately probabilistic) understanding of the universe.

If someone claims to know that there is no god, a skeptic should challenge that claim by asking what definition of god they are operating under.  If they have a specific god in mind, then they need to show how they can disprove that god (which can be done).  If they don’t offer a specific god which they have in mind, then hey have the extraordinarily difficult task of justifying such knowledge of the non-existence of all logically possible definitions of god.

I prefer not to try to climb such vertical cliffs, myself, but choose to allow a theist to offer their definition and their evidence which I can reply to.  This is, after all, the essential atheistic position, culturally; a response to theistic claims.



I could try and summarize this concept, but it would be pointless since Tristan D. Vick has done such a good job at articulating the idea here and then also here.

Here is a list of some of my posts over the years about definitions related to atheism and agnosticism:


Iron Chariots: a counter-apologetics wiki, started by our friends at the Atheist Community of Austin

“And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron”Judges 1:19 Bible-icon.png

Skeptic’s Annotated…[insert your favorite scripture here] (because nothing makes you an atheist like Bible study!)

Atheist Nexus: Social networking for atheists


7 thoughts on “Atheism?

  1. Oh, there are people who aren’t agnostic. They genuinely are absolutely certain of things and will not be convinced by any amount of evidence. We usually call them “delusional” or “insane”. Logical inconsistency is often no bar to their beliefs.

    I wish everyone were agnostic, it would make for a healthier society.

  2. Nathanael,

    I would classify those people as agnostic still, because even though they are certain, they still don’t actually know. One can be absolutely certain, and absolutely wrong. Some people are just epistemologically sophomoric.

  3. Interesting. So you are basically saying that your definition of Atheism is what some people call “Strong Atheism”?

    I generally say that I am an Atheist, but sometimes I clarify by saying I am an “Agnostic Atheist”. I don’t believe in the existence of a god because I have no “knowledge” (proof) that one exists.

    Are you saying that my wording is not the most accurate? Is being an Atheist really making a “claim” that no god exists?

    I see people argue and get so made over the definitions of these words, and that is what is most troubling. People shouldn’t get so angry over words and definitions. We aren’t all going to agree.

    I’ve been watching The Barking Atheist on YouTube and his view is a little different from mine but I understand where he is coming from.

  4. @Glen,

    No, I think you have me backwards. The definition of atheism is the lack of belief in any gods, which necessarily includes those who make the claim that no gods exist. I also identify (when being specific) that I am an agnostic atheist; I don’t know but I don’t believe.

    I don’t know who the Barking Atheist is.

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