Many people disagree on the meanings of the terms “atheism” and “agnosticism”. This often causes confusion during conversations on the topic, because most assume their interlocutor’s definition is the same as theirs.
Formally (e.g. in academic writing), the terms “atheism” and “agnosticism” are defined as follows:
- Atheism: The belief that no god exists.
- Agnosticism: The belief that god’s existence is unknown and unknowable.
However, because English is so biased towards Christianity, the common use of these terms is usually better described by these definitions:
- Atheism: The lack of belief in any gods (particularly the Christian God).
- Agnosticism: Indecision about the existence of the Christian God.
Agnosticism is often seen as a viewpoint held by people “on the fence” about Christianity. This is problematic for agnostics like me, because if I just say “I’m agnostic”, many will assume that I’m undecided on Christianity specifically.
Today, most people use the term “agnostic atheism” to describe this viewpoint, despite the fact that it is an oxymoron.
Anyway, whenever you have a discussion with someone on the topic of atheism or agnosticism, you should always disambiguate the terms to avoid arguing over the definition.