I think you have misunderstood my perspective, and would like to try and be more clear, if I can. I’m mot saying that I am reserving judgment NOR am I saying that I believe that god does not exist. Neither of those positions are those of the atheist who has considered the philosophical implications of the question at hand. That’s what you are missing, I think. The position of the vast majority of atheists I know from the atheist community is that we are not convinced that a god exists. Our judgment (again, not a reserved one) is that the claim has not been sufficiently demonstrated towards rational belief, while recognizing that we cannot say with absolute or high certainty that the proposed being cannot or does not exist.
This goes to your second point; I am not using the term “know” in this absolute sense either, but rather it’s more fluid common usage accepted by philosophers of many stripes. I’m an agnostic because I recognize that there is information I do not have, perspectives I have not considered, and because it is not logically impossible for many concepts of god to exist. Thus some god might exist beyond my current level of knowledge (or not exist beyond my current state of knowledge, depending, of course, on whether I actually believe in such a being currently) but this is not the point. Again, this is not a epistemologically absolutist position, but rather one of relative strength in the vein of scientific knowledge; overwhelming evidence is sufficient for using the term “know.”
And, even if you use “know’ that way, there is still the highly useful understanding of agnosticism in terms of belief (not knowledge): There are still many important cases in which people are agnostic about a claim in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.
This does not touch my use of the term agnostic at all. In fact, it coheres with it, somewhat ironically. Allow me to explain;
The first clause I will not grant aside from the trivial point that any word could be used in any way a person chooses to use it. But if we are striving for philosophical precision, we must try to maintain a consistency of terms insofar as they do not stray too far from usefulness in distinguishing concepts in context to the discussion at hand. ‘Agnostic’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘knowledge’, and in the context of the question of god’s existence this term plays the role of the question of knowledge, rather than belief, because these are epistemologically different concepts (knowledge and belief) and thus need to be distinguished in being precise. By allowing ‘agnosticism’ to bleed into the question of belief, one fails to recognize that this distinction is relevant.
And if you think that knowledge and belief are not that easily distinct, then you need to demonstrate why and how this impacts the question at hand. I do not believe you have done so thus far. However, I do think that this issue might be a point of our misunderstanding of one-another. I’ll leave that aside for the moment.
In terms of your second clause from above,
There are still many important cases in which people are agnostic about a claim in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.,
this is possibly trivially true, but again you miss the point. You are creating the wrong dichotomy to understand how I’m using the term ‘atheist.’ I’ll try and pry apart the relevant issues.
I accept, from the start, that there is no rational way to demonstrate that there are no gods of any kind. I cannot prove a negative, nor am I trying to. The problem here is that the antecedent ‘dis-‘ in ‘disbelieve’ is ambiguous in that it can mean both “opposite of” or “absence of,” and the logical distinction between these meanings is the very heart of this misunderstanding. It’s precisely why I use the terminology of “lacking” belief, so as to get rid of this ambiguity. The term “lack” implies that I’m not saying “there is no god” or “I believe that there is no god” but rather that “the evidence is insufficient to believe, and so I don’t believe.”
The implication of this is that I will go about my day as if said being does not exist even if I know, when pressed, that I cannot logically believe that it does not exist. The further implication is that the position of “believing that it’s false” is off the table; it is not a position under consideration. (At least for me. There are some that try to move in this direction, especially about specific concepts of gods, but this is beyond atheism and into another topic, perhaps anti-theism or some other term that may be more appropriate. But I digress….).
Thus the dichotomy that you, and many others, draw between [edit*] belief in and the belief of absence (“in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.”) is not the same one that I draw. You are drawing a distinction between two beliefs, while I am drawing a distinction between believing and not believing. Again, this is a judgment, just not in favor of any belief. My judgment is that the evidence and reasons proposed for the existence of any gods fail to demonstrate what they seek to demonstrate towards rational belief, and thus I lack belief. I disbelieve. I am an atheist. I am without belief. I do not ‘believe that their is a lack of gods’, I ‘lack belief in any gods.’ I hope you understand the distinction now.
So those that can fall under “neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false” do not make the point I think you wish to make. Why? Your formulation of the statement fits the definition of ‘agnostic’ in the same way that a ‘carpenter’ could be defined as a person who either believes in fairies or that the proposition of fairies is false; the term has nothing to do with the dichotomy at all. That was my point; whether one is a theist (believes), an anti-theist (believes a god does not exist), or an atheist (simply lacks belief) any of them could be an agnostic because agnosticism deals with what one knows, not with what one believes. The term ‘agnostic’ has nothing to do with “neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false” except in the trivial sense in which the formulation and the term are not mutually exclusive. They do not touch each-other at all.
You make the claim that “there is still the highly useful understanding of agnosticism in terms of belief (not knowledge)” but do not support this. I tried to show here why your subsequent clause did not wed agnosticism to belief in any way but a trivial one of non-exclusivity. In other words, I have not seen sufficient evidence (or reasoning) for your claim, thus don’t believe it. It may still be true, but that’s for you to demonstrate. The burden of proof still resides with you. See the analogy?
I’ll state my position again, and hope you’ll understand this time. I’m an agnostic; I don’t know if any gods exist. This is a given because nobody knows, either absolutely or by use of the term ‘know’ in a less absolutist sense. The term is thus redundant and thus useless; I toss the word to the side because it does not clarify my position in any way, except in the semi-trivial sense of being clear about my use of the term. Anyone who says that they know there is a god (or that they know there is not one) has the burden of proof, and I shall await their proof or overwhelming evidence.
I have not been convinced either way. The theist has not convinced me, and neither has the one claiming that there are no gods. I have judged both of their arguments to be insufficient to demonstrate their propositions.
Since I have not been convinced by the proposition (again, either one), even in light of attempts to demonstrate said being(s) existence (or against it’s existence), I lack belief in the proposed being (and the proposed lack of being), and lack belief.
Atheists are not going around trying to show why god does not exist (except in rarer cases, who are the extreme exception. These people are atheists, in that they lack belief, but are trying to take a further step in presenting an argument that gods do not exist, which goes beyond the definition of ‘atheism’ when we are being precise).
No, atheists are going around talking and writing about why they don’t believe in gods. They are presenting their arguments as to why the arguments proposed for gods fail to be rationally, empirically, or emotionally compelling. They are reacting to theology, not doing some bizzaro-world anti-theology (again, except for rare exceptions).
Don’t get caught up in the strong language of people saying “there is no god” because they are saying this in the same non-absolute sense that you objected to using “know” in your response above; They are not saying “there absolutely is no god” but rather “there is no reason, as far as I can see, to believe in one. Thus, I go about my days as if there is no god.”