Agnostic: A person who claims that the existence or nonexistence of deity is unknowable.

Atheist: A person who does not believe in any deity.

"Strong Atheist": A person who believes that no deity exists. Note that while ordinary atheism is a lack of belief, strong atheism is a belief.

What is written below is a synopsis of how Carl Sagan explained the two in his book, Contact


Given: Atheism is the belief that there is enough evidence to prove that God does not exist.

Given: Agnosticism is the belief that there is not enough evidence to prove that God does exist.

The late Carl Sagan argued through a fictional character in his novel, Contact, that atheism and agnosticism are practically the same concept. To be a proclaimed agnostic, a person must be able to envision a reality in which God does not exist. An agnostic would have to admit that our universe could very well be such a reality. However, an agnostic would also have to admit that our universe could very well be one of the God-inhabited realities. Therefore the difference between atheists and agnostics is that agnostics do not necessarily accept our reality as being one without God.


In the time since I have written this node, I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong. I will leave it here because I still think it has some merit, but if you want the real skinny on the deal, listen to Shadownode or tailchaser. They won't steer you wrong.

Yo Shady, Know me as Ulysses.

I was asked what an agnostic was by a friend on Friday, and since the atmosphere was not conducive towards long philosophical discussions, had to come up with something of a one liner:
Atheists are people who believe that the lack of evidence for the existence of God is evidence enough of its non existence. Agnostics see the logical flaw in that approach.

Probably not the most profound and comprehensive definition, but a good one to have lying around to use in a hurry.

We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
- Richard Dawkins

An agnostic thinks that there may be a God. Never seen one, but who knows?

An Explicit atheist such as myself is convinced that on the basis of the evidence, there is no god.

We are not labouring under a logical flaw. Although absence of proof is not proof of absence, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. Using Occam's razor, we should discount all theories if the only reason to believe them comes purely from wishful thinking, and not from any external evidence. Of course, should any new evidence emerge, a sensible person will re-evaluate their conclusions.

And quite frankly all the theism that I've ever seen is just wishful thinking, nothing more.

An agnostic has said "I don't know why you believe".
An atheist has said "I know why you believe, and it has nothing to do with a higher power".

Rather than say that an atheist is someone who doesn't believe that gods exist, I would put it in stronger terms: an Atheist is someone who believes that no gods exist.

Yes, I'm biased. Someone's got to tell it from the first person perspective.


General Wesc: The category of Implicit atheism, if I read it right, is someone who is an atheist because the idea of God doesn't feature in their existence at all. Unlikely, but possible. If this is so, then this person ceases to be an implicit atheist the minute that you shake them by the collar and demand to know "Do you believe in god or not?".

The example agnostic that I used is not in this class because they have heard of, and even thought about god before coming to their position of "I don't have enough evidence to tell" or "There's no evidence yet, but I'm holding out hope for some".

I find it odd that my model agnostic, Mr. Idunno, is called by you an atheist.

I can't call a person like this an atheist, because, well just because I baulk at calling anyone who says "there might be a god" an atheist. That's an agnostic of some kind. The example agnostic that I used is not Theistic agnosticism either because denying that anyone can ever know if there is a god is a much stronger position than "I don't know".

Atheism in my book starts with there is no god i.e. with explicit disbelief, which means that your category of Implicit atheism perhaps is not what I call atheist at all.

Mind you, there is a grey area from cautious atheism "there is no god, but I'm open to further evidence" on the one extreme, to agnosticism "I don't know, there doesn't seem to be one that affects me, so I won't concern myself with it" on the other.


CentrX insists that the only true agnostic is the kind who insists on the fundamental unknowability of the existence of God. He says "I am agnostic" is more prescriptive of a doctrine, rather than a simple hesitation or vacillation

To this I say phooey. In insisting on the exclusivity of this meaning, you are disagreeing with Webster 1913's agnostic writeup and with common usage. Moreover, the insistence on withholding judgement until all the facts are in is neither hesitation nor vacillation. It is a fine intellectual achievement, and one of the underpinnings of the scientific method.

Atheist: Someone who doesn't believe that gods exist.

Agnostic: Someone who doesn't believe there's any way to know whether gods exist.

There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Actually, there are two types of each:
  1. Atheism
    1. Implicit atheism states no belief in God but no disbelief either. Synonymous to nontheist.
    2. Explicit atheism is certainty that there is no God. Achieved not through lack of evidence for God's existence but through logical (or sometimes empirical) contradictions in God's existence.
  2. Agnosticism
    1. Atheistic agnosticism claims that it's unknowable whether or not God exists.
    2. Theistic agnosticism claims that God does exist but that his nature is unknowable.

Therefore, there's more than one differences between atheism and agnosticism. It depends on which type of atheism and agnosticism you're referring to.

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