I came across an interesting blog post at Richard Carrier Blogs. It has some wonderful logic along the way that you should read.
…So the only thing that separates believers in God from the rest of us is a belief in at least one god. Ergo, the only thing that can ever logically matter in distinguishing theists from “atheists” is whether we believe any god exists. Hence all that matters in defining an atheist is that an atheist does not believe in any god. Whether there are some gods atheists also deny is wholly irrelevant–because there are some gods everyone denies, even believers! And as long as we don’t believe in any God, we are not theists, and are therefore atheists.
Yes, agnostics and atheists are both atheist about all human defined gods. However, I do not see that thought to be the end of the subject. I am in agreement that to the theists we are and should be viewed as essentially one and the same and it can be just a linguistic nuance, but I think it is an important one.
Therefore, there is simply no such thing as a “soft atheist” who is not also a “hard atheist,” or a “hard atheist” who is not also a “soft atheist.” If you don’t believe in any god, then you will always be both. The only difference will be which gods you put where. Hence all unbelievers are both atheists and agnostics, and neither can deny either name. They can never be separated. Though these categories aren’t synonymous, you still can’t sort unbelievers into “atheists” and “agnostics” any more than you can sort them into “persons” and “people.” Thus it is simply stupid to debate which you are.
The problem I have with the argument is that it is only framed from the viewpoint of the human defined god itself instead of pulling back to the whole reason why people invented these gods, which is the question of the creation of the universe. The atheist either doesn’t really say anything about creation or continues to the logical conclusion that denying the supernatural gods implies that a natural creation could be the only answer. I think the true atheist denies the god concept completely and must come to that conclusion.
The agnostic does not deny the concept of a supernatural creation and instead acknowledges that humanity has no clue on the subject. This profession of not knowing ends up being an active claim that a supernatural creation that we do not understand is still a possible source for our creation. I think this remains in contrast to the atheist belief.
I see it like this:
Theist – universe created by a supernatural creator of my definition
Atheist – supernatural creators are false; this may extend to a denial of anything existing outside of the natural universe
Agnostic – human defined supernatural creators are false because we don’t know such things – we also don’t know where the universe came from or why it came to be, so a supernatural cause remains a possibility even if we may never understand it.
Huxley created the word agnostic. I turn to this explanation from him for the final word:
I have no doubt that scientific criticism will prove destructive to the forms of supernaturalism which enter into the constitution of existing religions. On trial of any so-called miracle the verdict of science is “Not proven.” But true Agnosticism will not forget that existence, motion, and law-abiding operation in nature are more stupendous miracles than any recounted by the mythologies, and that there may be things, not only in the heavens and earth, but beyond the intelligible universe, which “are not dreamt of in our philosophy.” The theological “gnosis” would have us believe that the world is a conjuror’s house; the anti-theological “gnosis” talks as if it were a “dirt-pie” made by the two blind children, Law and Force. Agnosticism simply says that we know nothing of what may be beyond phenomena.