Definition: Atheism and Agnosticism

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Atheism is broadly regarded as the doctrine that there is no God. Various atheists reinforce this assertion by arguments. However, these arguments are usually aimed against the Abrahamic notion of God—more specifically the Christian concept of God—and are generally irrelevant to gods probable in other faiths. Consequently, much Western atheism may be better identified as the doctrine that the Abrahamic God does not exist.

Agnosticism may perhaps be actually individual and confessional—“I have no definite belief about God”—or it may be the more motivated declaration that no one ought to have a definite belief for or against the divine existence. Often, only the motivated refutation invites contention. A promising version of agnosticism may merge William Clifford’s dictum that one must not hold a belief on inadequate evidence with the claim that the existence of God is evidentially unknowable. Both of these claims have been strongly contested by Christian apologetics.

Many people fail to make a precise distinction between atheism and agnosticism. It is possible that many people passionately identify themselves as agnostics were in fact atheists, and those who described themselves as atheists were agnostics because they have suspended their judgment of the existence of the Abrahamic God on the basis of inadequate evidence.

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