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Ask the Patriarch 84
Agnosticism and weak atheism

from Reverend Fouad

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I don't really see much contradiction between "weak atheism" (an absence of faith in a God) and agnosticism. I don't KNOW that there is no God, but if I had to bet $100 on the answer, I would bet there is no God! Wouldn't you bet the same way? You surely wouldn't bet that there is a God 50% of the time?

Also, maybe I am not that sure there is no Creator for THIS universe (it could have been created in an extraterrestrial scientist's lab), but I'm pretty positive there is no Creator for the EVERYTHING there is. In the same way, I'm pretty positive the God of the Bible does not exist.

Do you share these two last views?

Does that make you an "strong atheist" in those special interpretative cases?

Respectfully yours,

Reverend Fouad, Montreal.

The Patriarch replies:

It is my view that if the concept of weak atheism had been widely accepted in the nineteenth century, Huxley would not have found a need to coin agnosticism. But atheism in his day was what is today considered strong atheism. Weak atheism certainly allows some to consider themselves to be both agnostics and atheists; they find no contradiction between the two claims.

I prefer, for clarity, to consider myself an agnostic.

Being an agnostic does not necessarily imply assigning equal probability to the existence or non-existence of a deity. I suspect most agnostics would give their subjective probability of a god at five percent or less.

As I have written elsewhere, my own agnosticism is based more on the remote possibility of a deistic god - that is an intelligence who set the universe in motion and then left it to its own devices. I suppose one could say this makes me a strong atheist with respect to a Christian god, but no more than a Hindu is a strong atheist with respect to that same Christian god. Neither of us would find it necessary to use the term atheist to describe our beliefs.