The basic dichotomy of god belief is simple:  A person is either a theist or an atheist. Theism denotes a belief in one or more deities while atheism is simply the non-belief.  Strictly speaking, if one answers the question of, “Do you believe in God?” with anything but a solid ‘yes’, then they are an atheist.  I’ll reduce the possible answers to ‘yes’, ‘I don’t know’, and ‘no’ for simplicity’s sake.  The first indicates theism, while the latter two would put the responder in the atheist camp.  Whether someone wears the dreaded ‘atheist’ name tag is their choice, and a topic for another day.

Someone might say that the ‘I don’t know’ answer implies agnosticism.  This is where the common error begins.  Remember, the question isn’t “Is there a god?”  The question is, “Do you BELIEVE in God?”  To say “I don’t know” indicates a lack of certainty of one’s own belief.  It’s not about what the person knows.  The difference may be subtle, but it’s important.

There is a difference between the questions “Does a god exist?” and “do you believe a god exists?”  The former asks about knowledge and the latter asks about belief.  The key is to recognize the difference.  You can believe something to be true, but not actually know it.  Conversely, if you know something is true, unless you are insane in the membrane, you will also believe it to be true.

‘Agnosticm’ was coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869 to describe the rejection of spiritual knowledge.  In this vein, it’s the assertion that there is a lack of actual knowledge.  Some people go a step further and assert that agnosticism is a claim that one can’t know.  This is a later usage of the term, which I find interesting.  It’s self-contradictory.  The claim that one can’t know something is a knowledge claim about that topic in and of itself. It carries an extremely large burden of proof which I think can’t be supported.  That’s my belief anyway.  I can’t prove it, of course.

The word Gnosticism is based on the Greek word ‘gnosis’ which means ‘knowledge’ conveniently enough.  The Gnostics were a religious sect in the second century which made claims of religious knowledge.  Huxley added the prefix ‘a-’ which means ‘without’ to form the word ‘agnostic’.  While we rarely see people using ‘gnostic’ with a lower-case ‘G’ to describe a knowledge claim, it’s a convenient bookend term for a scale to describe one’s knowledge.

“Very interesting,” you say.  So what’s my big freakin’ problem?!

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