Atheist? Or Agnostic? Which makes better sense?

Posted: January 7, 2014 in Religion
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Even as someone convinced of god’s existence, I understand this challenge, I really do. I would simply insert “Agnostic” instead of “Atheist”. What do you think?

As one does, I got involved in a bruising little debate between “Lili”  and “Mike” on Facebook today.

Lili, a feisty and opinionated mid-teens schoolgirl was being taken to task by Mike for posting one of those silly greetings cards that pop up all over the Net.

This one had a 1950s family of Dad, Mom and two kids leaving an old-style church with the headline: “Well, that was a bunch of bullshit.”

She repeatedly challenged Mike to “prove” God’s existence. Mike repeatedly ignored her. This was my response: I’d be interested to know what you think.

“I think, respectfully, Mike, that you are not providing answers to Lili’s challenge. Because the only possible answer to “Prove to me that God exists” is surely “I can’t.”

But not because, in my considered opinion, that he/she/it doesn’t exist.

But rather because if we could prove God exists then there would be no point in faith, and faith is what makes life meaningful. Jesus makes this point himself with the Doubting Thomas episode … it is one of the most significant passages in the Bible.

Lili, I applaud your scepticism. I would simply suggest you keep an open mind, not a closed one. To me, as a believer, the appropriate response for someone who is not convinced that God exists is agnosticism, not atheism. Atheism is a very hard row to plough. It means you have to dismiss the vast literature and experience of God throughout human history.

Please note, I say God, not religion.

Plenty of skeptical, liberal people, plenty of scientists, for example, in all different cultures around the world, nevertheless report having experienced something so other-worldly as to be both beyond coincidence and inexplicable.

To be an atheist is to accuse ALL those people, every single one, of being either deluded or stupid. Big call.

I believe that no one ever reaches a knowledge of God through study, or even through the remonstrations of others. Jesus said “I stand at the door knocking, if you open it, I will come in.”

agnostic-cemetaryIt is my life experience that many people answer that challenge at some stage of their life, and become, through it, convinced that God exists.

Not that they understand “It”, or that, even, they are particularly comforted by the experience.

Simply that they experience something they cannot otherwise explain.

I would therefore urge you, simply, to leave enough of the door ajar to consider that all those people are not idiots.

Agnostic I can definitely understand. Atheist? That seems much more problematical for me.

Oh, and by the way? I think God enjoys your questioning, and your intelligence, and your compassion. Go for it.”

Does my argument have any value? I’d like to know what you think. If you disagree with me please be as blunt as you like, but keep it nice 🙂

  1. Sabina says:

    Your post raised an interesting question and I would like to respond.
    First, regarding the graphic headed “I am an atheist”
    It makes sense up to the line reading “If you propose the existence of something you must first follow the scientific method…”
    To me the scientific method is way of evaluating something using scientific rules. Why must these rules necessarily be followed in matters of faith?
    Aren’t they a kind of religion in themselves?
    We’re talking about faith here, something that certainly exists in people’s heads but maybe not in the world of science.
    Most people who follow a religion do it because they have the gift of faith, or they pretend to have it because their tribe expects it of them.
    Their faith tells them to follow certain rules; rules which are designed to govern and control the behaviour of the tribe.
    Thus faith facilitates an orderly tribe.
    It gives tribe members a sense of meaning and belonging.
    It provides solace for people whose lives are burdened with suffering and injustice.
    It helps people tolerate life events that would otherwise be intolerable.
    It gives people hope that their suffering will one day prove to have been worthwhile.
    At the same time it can stimulate them to take risks and perform selfless, dangerous acts such as suicide bombings.
    It justifies the persecution of individuals who are perceived as not of the same faith or as rule-breakers.
    Whichever God or Gods are followed, the same basic rules apply:
    • Follow these rules or be punished.
    • Tolerate this suffering and be rewarded.
    • Persecute these people who don’t share your faith or act according to its rules.
    So you can probably gather that I don’t have the gift of faith.
    But I respect those who do.
    I see it as a therapeutic tool for many as well as a dangerous weapon for a few.
    I appreciate the way it encourages people to follow rules that make life better for everyone.
    I know that prayer works. If asked, I would say that it works by stimulating “feel good” hormones that reduce pain and mental distress. Maybe it does more.
    I envy you your faith. I don’t think you should have to justify it or apologise for it but I don’t share it.
    As for the sense in being called an atheist or an agnostic — I think I’d go with “humanist.”

    I can also recommend a book I enjoyed recently called “Religion for Atheists” by Alain de Botton which examines the search for meaning shared by all humans, be they atheists, agnostics, humanists or people of faith.


  2. Interesting discussion. I am a Christian myself, but that leaves me free to deplore uncounted things that Christians are doing purportedly in the name of Christ. I could talk at length about the separation of church and state (“My kingdom is not of this world”) as well as the causes and effects of unwanted and obnoxious evangelism. But having recently read this article ( and experienced a kind of mini-epiphany, I strongly suspect that what brings the most acrimony into this topic is not faith or morals, but manners. And a little empathy.

    I do agree with you too, Yolly, that God must enjoy Lily’s using her intelligence (which I believe he gave her) to question him. Probably the most interesting material he’s had to listen to all day.


  3. Tony Ising says:

    Some people believe in God. Others don’t.

    Some people say problematical. Others say problematic.

    Ahh… life’s rich tapestry!


  4. Tony Ising says:

    Did a bit of research and apparently both are correct. Thought it was a bit of a microcosm of your entire article. Different strokes for different folks and all that.


  5. […] Atheist? Or Agnostic? Which makes better sense? […]


  6. crossbow says:

    The proof of God is in prayer’s effect upon the heart.

    And the proof of the truth of the New Testament is in its teaching of that effect.


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