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Ask the Patriarch 205
Agnostics in one respect and atheists in another?

from: Reverend Fouad

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Even though the existence of SOME kind of a God cannot be disproved, surely the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent one can be absolutely ruled out?

That would make us agnostics in one respect and atheists in the other?

Am I correct here?

The Patriarch replies:

I'll take your two questions in reverse order.

There are any number of people who identify themselves for various reasons as both agnostic and atheist.[1] I personally am content with being an agnostic but I'm not going to challenge those who choose to use both labels. But I don't think it is necessary.

There's a quotation attributed to Stephen F. Roberts talking to a believer: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do." But, the fact is that rejecting all gods except one does not turn a believer into an atheist; regardless of how many gods she does not believe in, she remains a believer as long as she believes in at least one deity. She is not a believer in one respect, and an atheist in the other.

The same applies to agnostics. As long as an agnostic feels it is important to make the distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and is agnostic about at least one possible god, then that person can reasonably call himself an agnostic.

I would even go a little further. Someone could claim to not believe in every single god ever proposed by humankind, but could think that a deity not yet considered may exist. That person could still legitimately call herself an agnostic.

In summary, not believing in a subset of the possible spectrum of gods does not mean you have to call yourself an atheist.

Now, as to absolutely ruling out an omnipotent and benevolent god - let's narrow that down a bit. Let's say an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent creator god - if you put all that together, and compare it with the real world in which we live (and which the god supposedly created,) we find it very easy to identify logical inconsistencies. So - if logic holds, you can reasonably rule out such a god.

But, when we are dealing with the supernatural, does logic hold? The laws of nature do not - after all it is the supernatural, and perhaps logic does not either.

So ultimately the answer is "I don't know."


  1. See Meditation 796 for a discussion of this issue