Monday, November 14, 2005

Agnosticism and Atheism

Agnosticism is the philosophical view that the truth values of certain claims—particularly theological claims regarding the existence of God, gods, or deities—are unknown, inherently unknowable, or incoherent, and therefore, (some agnostics may go as far to say) irrelevant to life. The term and the related agnostic were coined by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869, and are also used to describe those who are unconvinced or noncommittal about the existence of deities as well as other matters of religion. The word agnostic comes from the Greek a (without) and gnosis (knowledge). Agnosticism, focusing on what can be known, is an epistemological position (dealing with the nature and limits of human knowledge); while atheism and theism are ontological positions (a branch of metaphysics that deals with what types of entities exist). Agnosticism is not to be confused with a view specifically opposing the doctrine of gnosis and Gnosticism—these are religious concepts that are not generally related to agnosticism.

Agnosticism is distinct from strong atheism (also called positive atheism), which denies the existence of any deities. However, the more general variety of atheism, weak atheism (also called negative atheism, and sometimes neutral atheism), professes only a lack of belief in a god or gods, which is not equivalent to but is compatible with agnosticism.

Agnostics may claim that it isn't possible to have absolute or certain spiritual knowledge or, alternatively, that while certainty may be possible, they personally have no such knowledge. Agnosticism in both cases involves some form of skepticism towards religious statements.

Atheism, in its broadest sense, is characterized by an absence of belief in the existence of god(s), thus contrasting with theism. This definition includes both those who assert that there are no gods and those who have no beliefs at all regarding the existence of gods. However, narrower definitions often only qualify the former as atheism, the latter falling under the more general (but rarely used) term nontheism.

Although atheists often share common concerns regarding evidence and the scientific method of investigation and a large number are skeptics or humanists, there is no single ideology that all atheists share. Additionally, many atheists are not entirely without religion; there are atheists who are religious or spiritual despite their lack of belief in god(s) — though many of these would not describe themselves as atheists.

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