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.
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.
Here is a list of some of my posts over the years about definitions related to atheism and agnosticism:
- A Message for Agnostics
- Atheism: Definitions (which includes a fantastic video by youtuber Evid3nc3
- 100% certainty and atheism (after the Dawkins ‘revelation’ that he is, in fact, an agnostic as well)
- You can be 100% certain, and 100% wrong (continuation of issue above)
Academic-bible.com (because nothing makes you an atheist like Bible study!)
Atheist Nexus: Social networking for atheists