I firmly believe there is a distinct difference between the meaning of Atheist and Agnostic. It is what led me to create this site as I discovered some interesting writings about that difference. The word Agnostic describes exactly what I firmly believe, which is that we do not know.
For me, it centers on creation and our creator. Atheists do not believe in one or simply lack a belief in one. I do not know of our creator and lack a knowledge of one… however, I do not actually lack a belief in one or for that matter have a belief in a specific definition of one. Somewhere in the supernatural unknown there could be some sort of creator. It may or may not be something of intelligence, but there probably is some sort of root cause or spark that lit the tinder for existence. I believe something may have created or caused the universe but I have no idea what that something is. That is why I cannot say I simply lack a belief in a creator as a weak Atheist does. Our creator is unknown and undefinable to me other than as the cause of the universe to exist.
I feel an awe for our existence. There could be an intelligence we do not understand that kicked all of this off. I don’t feel that it controls the universe or that there is some sort of universal justice in existence, but to say that the universe was created by the Big Bang doesn’t answer that nagging question of “why?” What was the root cause of it to be and why did that happen? Is there a reason for our beginning or was it just chance? We are simple creatures that can’t understand such things just as the ant crawling on the floor cannot understand us the way we know ourselves. The ant can probably never understand us just as we probably will never understand the true nature and origin of the universe.
?When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; this is knowledge.? – Confucius
?We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know.? – Albert Einstein
?The origin of all science is the desire to know causes, and the origin of all false science is the desire to accept false causes rather than none; or, which is the same thing, in the unwillingness to acknowledge our own ignorance.? – William Hazlitt
?To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.? – Lao Tzu
Here’s an Atheist that doesn’t believe Agnosticism is a legitimate viewpoint:
You’re an Atheist; You Just Don’t Know It Yet
I’ll try again with all of you, and see how many “agnostics” I can convince to start calling themselves “atheists.” Get comfortable, and open your mind …
Let’s start with a definition to make sure we understand the word “theism”: a theist has a belief in the existence of a god or a pantheon of gods. That’s what theism is. So, if you have a belief in one or more gods then you are a theist. Simple so far, right?
If you are unsure whether you believe in a god, try hitting Google for phrases like “list of gods” or “who can I worship?” or “names by which I can disavow responsibility for my own actions.”
If you have a belief in one or more gods then you are a theist. Conversely (and here’s the part that trips people up for some reason) if you are not a theist, then you are an atheist. That’s the only other choice. Atheism and theism are a binary, tautological pair and they cover the entire range of possibilities. There is no third choice.
Agnosticism is not a third choice. For that matter, being a real estate agent or a woman or a speaker of Esperanto is not a third choice. You cannot claim, for instance, “I am not a theist or an atheist, instead I speak Esperanto.”
Agnosticism is the notion that one cannot have knowledge of the existence of a god. Note that being agnostic has nothing to do with belief. You can believe in the existence of a chair, or not have belief in the existence of a chair — that’s the whole range when it comes to belief in that chair. As a wholly separate issue, there is the idea that you can have knowledge of that chair or that you are not able to have knowledge of that chair. This has nothing to do with belief aside from the rational idea that if you do happen to have knowledge of a thing then it follows that you will believe in it, if you are sane.
I can easily latch onto the notion that you are either a Theist or Atheist as a binary choice of for or against a belief in supernatural creation. There is indeed a third choice in any binary decision: not knowing enough to make a choice. Agnostics stake the claim that we do not have the answer to the question because it is outside the scope of our knowledge. We don’t believe in any of the gods defined by humanity so we are not theists, but likewise we do not reject the possibility of a supernatural creation. However, we are not Atheists even though we are atheistic about the creators defined by humanity.
I can take this to your example of the chair as well. I have a wooden rocking chair in the spare bedroom of my house. Do you have to choose to either believe there is a wooden rocking chair there or not? That’s the only choices you present even though you have not been in the spare bedroom of my house. Is it fair to make you choose between two choices when actually there might be a leather armchair instead and I’m just confused in making you make that choice? In that case neither choice is exactly correct. Yes, there is a chair but it wasn’t described correctly at all. The person smart enough to say they definitely don’t know because they’ve never been in my spare bedroom is the correct one.