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Atheism and Agnosticism

Before you claim you don't believe something you must know what that something is. People have different definitions of "God." People have said that "god is nature." I think this is a confusing and unnecessary declaration, using two words when only one is needed. But in reference to the common idea of god as a deity – theism – and you don't believe in such a god you can call yourself an atheist – which means non-theist.

But it you want to put your non-theism in a the context of a more disciplined array of thinking – philosophy – you might want to call yourself an agnostic. Those who believe in the existence of the deity you are denying are doing so without both analytic and empirical verifiability. But your denying this deity also lacks analytic or empirical verifiability.

There is a difference between not believing and believing, which many "believers" don't recognize, and they describe non-believers as metaphysical as they. We also have in this world people who call themselves agnostics and describe themselves as transcending their agnosticism while maintaining it by their faith in God. They are entertaining a contradiction, which they might call a paradox and have satisfied themselves philosophically. Some scientists believe in the methodology of science but not the philosophy of science and proclaim their belief in one deity or another.

The question of atheism versus agnosticism can be complicated by historical considerations – beyond the simple strictures of epistemology. Belief in god has arisen from interpretation of reality on the basis spiritual magic. It was the only force outside themselves that early humanity believed in, and it survives in the magic of the agent gods that people believe in to do, reinforced by myth. If we reject magic as a force and the myths associated with it, we can all ourselves atheists. I believe, without worrying about those who demand a tight adherence to the empirical verification issue. I use the word tight because those who take the view of history just described usually draw from a history methodology described as empirical.

A writer for the website LifeDaily, Helen Butacova, describes Brad Pitt as having said he considers himself 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic, which Butacova says "sounds like 100% agnostic."

Butacova quotes Jodie Foster as follows: "I absolutely love religions and the rituals. Even though I don't believe in God, we celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids."

I'm not quite with Jodie Foster, but I respect her approach. My approach differs slightly. I'm with the celebrity Butacova describes as saying,

"If I get into trouble, there's no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself."

As I see it there is no escape from choice, whether you want to follow biblical pronouncements or not. Some people find comfort in choosing what their cultural tradition has handed them. It is a choice that gives them comfort, and if we are not sadistic we should respect their choice as a part of our respect for people in general. We should leave the belief of God's torture, in hell and on earth, to the believers.

By the way, here are a few famous agnostics: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Susan B Anthony, Mark Twain. And yes, Albert Einstein (check him out).

You might be interested in reading about Thomas Jefferson's beliefs regarding religion. He lived back when atheism and agnosticism were not widely admitted. Jefferson thought that Epicurus was the best of philosophers. Epicurus wrote that death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared and that gods neither reward nor punish humans, that the world is ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space. Jefferson did not believe in the god that today's theists believe in. Jefferson to his nephew Peter Carr wrote: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

Two other people labeled as agnostics who have held public office: Bob Kerrey, Governor of Nebraska (1983–1987) and United States Senator from Nebraska (1989–2001); and Susan Rice former United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota, in online on video telling Larry King that he is an atheist, that he doesn't believe in the "tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and Santa." Responding to King he said he didn't mind if people say "God Bless America." that it was their choice.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.