A little clarity, please!

Newby here! Be gentle!

I’ve been reading the threads in the Debate Room, and a couple of things jump out at me:

An atheist is defined as someone who doesn’t believe that gods exist. They aren’t defined as someone who believes that gods don’t exist. That second person is an atheist, but not all atheists agree with the second statement. Those 2 statements are very close to each other and many theists confuse the 2, but that 2nd statement is a claim, and the first is the absence of a claim.

So what is the equivalent statement about theists? Is - say - a Christian someone who believes the Christian god exists? That’s a claim and Christians are frequently challenged to back up that claim. That’s similar to the 2nd atheist statement. But they can’t make a statement similar to the first atheist statement. (the definition!), or can they?

Thanks in advance!

That makes perfect sense to me, a belief is the affirmation of a claim, and theism is therefore a claim and all claims carry a burden of proof. Atheism is withholding belief from that claim, it does not carry any burden of proof, some atheists as you say go farther, and make a positive claim no deity exists, this would carry a burden of proof, though I’d argue not an equal one, since theism is the larger initial claim.

Oh and welcome to AR


Welcome! When a theist is on this site, usually we have to have them define or describe the god they believe in. There are over 3000 different Christian faiths plus some have their own personal ideas.

I have no reason to believe a god/s exist.

My “reason” or “confidence” is based on a standard for evidence. My level is “civil claims court”. Some have a higher level.

I don’t claim that gods “don’t exist”, I just don’t believe that they do.


A Gnostic Christian is a Christian who knows God Exists. (Knowledge in this case is defined as a belief that would be life-altering if it were demonstrated not to be true.) This is different than “Justified True Belief,” A common philosophical definition of knowledge. What counts as justification? What is truth? There is a lot of unsettled discussion in the JTB definition. So, life-altering, makes sense.

An Agnostic Christian: Admits they have no evidence and can not prove God to anyone but opts to believe anyway. They just have “faith.” Faith: (Biblically Defined) Evidence for things not seen.

John 20:29
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe .” … Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed . Those who believe without seeing are blessed

Christians are encouraged to believe though they have not seen.

God exists and you believe (+1 - You go to heaven)
God exists and you don’t believe (-1 - You burn in hell.)
God does not exist and you don’t believe ( 0 It does not matter. You may or may not live a good life.)
God does not exist and you Believe (0 It does not matter. But, you live a good life anyway.)

The only winning position is to believe in god and go to heaven. So, whether there is evidence or not, the logical position is to believe in god.

To believe in Pascal’s Wager, you must assume God is an idiot who does not know your heart. This is contrary to the teachings of the Bible in referencing its god who knows your heart and even counts the hairs on your head. For you to believe in a god just to go to heaven is pretty silly. How many of your friends are your friends because they promise to give you cake and ice cream? How many of your friends are your friends because if they were not your friends they would torture you? This is a very poor reason to believe in a god, and as I said, it assumes God is an idiot.

So you have the Gnostic Christian - Those who know there is a god. and
You have the Agnostic Christian - those who don’t actually know but have faith and believe anyway.


This is exactly why I started this thread. There is a problem with the term “Agnostic Christian”. If I use the normal definition of how we know something to be true, then an Agnostic Christian can’t exist - that is, he can’t demonstrate that there is knowledge that gods exist.

Note to future readers of this thread. I made a mistake and used Agnostic in the Side bar below when I should have used Gnostic. I am not going to correct this post because the rest of the conversation would make no sense. But I am noting the mistake. I discuss a correction below starting at #17.

Side bar: I don’t think using “Life Altering” as the dividing line between knowing and not knowing, gets us where we need to go - after all, any Agnostic Atheist knows that he can’t produce evidence that something doesn’t exist, but an Agnostic Christian knows that all he has to do is produce evidence that SHOULD exist if a god exists. Put another way, an Agnostic Atheist can never show a complete lack of evidence, but an Agnostic Christian only needs to show one bit of evidence - the burden of proof isn’t evenly balanced.

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IMO, it just doesn’t have to be complicated. Whether someone does not believe or does believe in god(s) is what a/theism consists of. Full stop. There is no fence sitting. If one “isn’t sure” or “hasn’t decided” or “doesn’t know” whether they believe then they don’t and can therefore be identified as atheist.

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So if I understand you: A theist who is questioning her faith is an atheist in so far as the act of questioning would include the don’t know if they believe anymore, the isn’t sure if they believe and the hasn’t decided whether to believe in god(s). No room for nuance which we all know is the spice in the sauce of life. :laughing:

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. A theist is someone who believes in god/s, eh? Anyone who does not answer the question, “Do you believe in god/s” without the answer, “yes,” is not a theist. If one is not a theist, they are atheist (without belief in god/s).

Edited to add…this is a very different question than asking if one thinks god/s exist.


Q: Do you believe in god?
A1: I’m not sure.
Q: How about you, do you believe in god?
A2: I don’t know.
Q: And you, do you believe in god?
A3: I haven’t decided.
Q: Hey you over there, do you believe in god?
A4: No.
By your reckoning they are all atheist. Even though only the last respondent expressed her disbelief in god. The first three might object to the label since they haven’t said one way or the other. Let me make this silly analogy to illustrate my point: Imagine someone walking down the street. When their left foot is on the ground and their right foot is raised they believe in god and when their right foot is on the ground and their left foot is raised they don’t believe in god. What are they when for that brief moment both feet are on the ground? Couldn’t they be undecided and unsure because they don’t know what they believe? Your black and white definition would be a great way to boost our atheist membership but would it give an accurate count? Seems to me that atheism should be a choice rather than a default. :upside_down_face:

Yes. I think if someone does not express an affirmative answer to the question “do you believe x” then they are without that belief. Full stop. You disagree. Okay.

“Atheist membership”? WTAF? When did not believing in god/s become a club?

I should have put a :wink: or a :grinning: or maybe a :woozy_face: to make it clear that last bit was a joke. Sorry

You just contradicted yourself. Agnostic. A = without Gnostic = knowledge of god.

An agnostic Christian has no knowledge of god. He can not demonstrate there is knowledge that god exists. There is no problem with the term at all. You clearly used it correctly.

---------------------------------------------------- Let’s see if I can break this down…

Agnostic knows he can’t produce evidence. (Not quite. He knows he does not have evidence. He may assume there is evidence out there. He may buy into a first-cause argument but still assert he can not prove god exists. Just, ‘something’ had to cause everything and I call that God."

No. Evidence should only exist if God wills it. Some are given evidence and others are not. You are being too logical. The Christian mind does not work that way.

Sure they can. That is why they are agnostic. They know all the evidence has been debunked and still they choose to believe. They have been moved by the Holy Ghost. That ‘is’ the way it works.

Agnostic Christian admits there is no evidence. “I can’t prove it to you, but god is real to me.” Personal experience is the evidence they frequently rely on. If that fails, there is always, "Well, you gotta have ‘faith.’ That’s how it works.

The “BURDEN OF PROOF” is clearly defined. The person making the claim has the burden of proof. Atheists make no claims. Atheism is the position of the null hypothesis. The god’s claim can be rejected as it is not supportable. Claims of Gods are unfalsifiable propositions at best.

All three are withholding belief in god/s. They haven’t said “yes”.

A lack of belief in gods. Athiest.


Howdy, Capri. Welcome to the AR. If you are looking for answers, you came to the right place. Amazing amount of collective knowledge in this joint. That being said, keep in mind I am just comedy relief around here, so I basically sit back and ride on the coattails of the intellectual heavy-hitters. Nevertheless, I do like to pretend to be smart every now and then, so I’m gonna take a crack at your very reasonable question in the hopes of bringing a bit of clarity to your confusion.

For starters, I would like to stress that my PERSONAL opinion is that EVERYBODY (atheists and theists alike) is Agnostic in regards to god(s). Sure, there are those who CLAIM to be gnostic, but how can they possibly PROVE their stance? Again, this applies to theists AND atheists. Now, with that in mind, allow me to reiterate. Others here have already explained the difference between Gnostic (Knowledge of god) and Theism (Belief in a god). Placing the “a” in front of either of those simply means “lack of”. Tracking so far?..

Okay, so, when somebody tells me, “I am a Christian, and I KNOW god exists,” that would technically make that individual a Gnostic Theist, right? But having questioned a few of these subjects over the years, it always ends up with them grudgingly admitting they DON’T really KNOW. And then they crawfish back to the standard, “Well, my FAITH allows me to BELIEVE god exists.” In other words, those who actually admit up front that they don’t really know (Agnostic theists), are actually more “honest” with themselves and others. Moreover, they actually consider themselves MORE BLESSED for relying strictly on their FAITH (believing without actually knowing). Of course, you also have those who say they believe ONLY because they aren’t sure (don’t KNOW), but it’s better to be safe than sorry (Pascal’s Wager. But that’s another discussion on its own.).

Anyway, hope that helps a bit. (Even though I basically just repeated what most here have already said. Still, like Cyber said, don’t go making this any more complicated than it really is. We already have plenty of theists ready and willing to do that for us. Simple is always better when it comes to this stuff. Remember, it ain’t rocket surgery.


Yo, Cog! A minor technical correction, if I may. As we have all seen, they always produce TONS of what they claim to be “evidence”. Remember, evidence is EVERYWHERE. Just look at the trees. Look at how PERFECTLY the Earth was MADE to support our lives. So, see? PLENTY of evidence. Of course, it does not necessarily mean the evidence is worth a shit. :sweat_smile:

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I agree. (Obviously that is what I meant to say.)

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Opps! I made a mistake and used “Agnostic” when I should have used “Gnostic”. My apologies! I made a note in the thread you quoted to note the mistake.

So to get back on track: A Gnostic Theist “knows” something that isn’t true and only has to produce one bit of evidence to back up their claim, but can’t because there isn’t any - but that doesn’t persuade them from continuing the argument.

By contrast, a Gnostic Atheist can’t produce any contrary evidence because there isn’t any (absence of evidence). This is frequently cited by theists to bolster their argument. The situation is unbalanced in favor of the theist.

I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for better words and phraseology to express things. This is mostly a language kind of thing, rather than a philosophy kind of thing.

But I did come to the right place.

Knowledge by definition must contain facts and information that can be demonstrated and shared, if that turns out to be nothing more than subjective anecdote, and personal experience, then one could claim any abstract idea one had was objectively real. Watch out for the word spiritual, this in my experience is something of a red flag for peddling this type of argument.

If a claim cannot be supported by a demonstration of sufficient objective evidence, then I remain disbelieving. As the truth or not of the claim is of more importance to me than the claim itself. If one’s criteria for credulity is not applied to all claims, then by definition one is being closed minded.

Well this would depend on the nature of the claim, and specifically whether it is unfalsifiable, but yes it isn’t hard to work out that there is no such thing as evidence of non-existence it’s a misnomer some theists throw around, and it is epistemologically meaningless.

Also atheism is not a claim or a belief, and thus carries no burden of proof at all, only an atheist may incur a burden of proof by making a claim they cannot sufficiently support, or that is irrational.

It’s called an argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy, and yes it is the most often used common logical fallacy in religious apologetics. Though I have seen atheists who make this error in reasoning as well. Whilst a lack of evidence (especially where one would expect to see evidence), is evidence of absence, and sufficient reason alone to disbelieve a claim, it is not on its own sufficient reason to justify a contrary claim, and to do so would involve just such a fallacy in informal logic.

Well, you can do both, I think honest debate requires an open mind, and that we don’t simply try to sharpen our arguments, but engage honestly with arguments presented. As with science, all ideas should remain tentative in the light of new evidence, no matter how unlikely those ideas are to change. This then is the very antithesis of religious dogma and faith, where the core belief is immutable, and all facts must be bent to support it.

The one enables and improves the other in my experience. An insufficient grasp of language sinks an awful lot of arguments in my experience. Then again so does word salad, so learning to recognise the difference between complex, or subtly nuanced explanations and arguments, and outright word salad, is vital. Be on the lookout for absolute claims, as this kind of hubris doesn’t usually accompany well thought out and well reasoned arguments.

Above all, I am an atheist because I don’t believe in any deity or deities. I do not disbelieve in any deity or deities, because I am an atheist. We often see atheists who lose sight of that in their eagerness to challenge religious apologists, and simply end up making equally poor and strident claims they cannot properly evidence, or rationally defend.