Some of us believe in gods, some in reincarnation, and some are unsure, or believe it’s the
end of the road once we find ourselves six feet under.
No one really knows for sure but the quest to understand truth and whether there is life
after death has been a goal of humanity far beyond the first history books were written.
How are some of our belief and non-belief systems alike?
That’s what we’ll be attempting to find out in today’s episode of The Infographics
Show: Atheist vs. Agnostic - How do they compare & what’s the difference?
Atheism is in a broad sense the unbelief in god or the belief that there is no god.
Many atheists argue that it’s a label that shouldn’t really exist at all, as we don’t
create names for other nonbelief systems.
For example there is no word to describe someone who doesn’t believe in astrology.
If there were, we would probably call them non-astrologers.
But in recent years the atheist movement has become a lot larger with many outspoken famous
atheists, such as scientist and author Richard Dawkins or comedian Ricky Gervais.
The two main divisions within atheism are often called gnostic atheism and agnostic
Those in the first group state that they definitely know there is no god and can prove it, the
second group are people who say that they can’t prove it with certainty, but there
is most likely no god.
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins suggests a spectrum of seven levels of beliefs
from those who believe in God to those who do not.
The 7 categories that Dawkins popularized are:
Strong theist which is someone with 100% probability of God being real.
In the words of C.G.
Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
De facto theist.
A very high probability but short of 100%.
"I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption
that he is there."
Leaning towards theism.
So higher than 50% but not very high.
"I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
Spot on 50%.
"God's existence and non-existence could both be possible.”
Leaning towards atheism, which is lower than 50% but not very low.
"I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
De facto atheist.
A very low probability, but short of zero.
"I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on
the assumption that he is not there."
And Strong atheist, which is a person who would state, "I know there is no God, with
the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
It is commonly believed that an atheist would not waver from their belief and hold an extremist
But actually many atheists do encourage open dialogue and debate between different view
So what about someone who is agnostic?
The word “agnostic” is derived from the Greek word “Gnosis”, which means, “to
know” and the “A” which is used to state the opposite.
So literally translated the word agnostic means “not knowing”.
Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist who lived in the 1800’s, first introduced
the word in 1876, during a meeting of Britain’s Metaphysical Society.
Huxley’s definition was as follows: “Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient
It simply means a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific
grounds for professing to know or believe.”
The word agnostic describes a person who neither believes nor disbelieves the existence of
They follow the belief that one can never know the world beyond sense and experience.
In other words the real world that we live in day to day.
People who are agnostic are often criticized for not being willing to make a choice one
way or another.
But this may be more misunderstood criticism as really many agnostics take a firm stand
on the view that we do not yet have sufficient knowledge and understanding beyond the physical
realm and therefore cannot make any definite assumptions about the existence of god.
That’s a little on what it means to be atheist vs. agnostic.
Now let’s do a head to head comparison on the key differences.
An atheist does not believe in any god, where as someone who is agnostic does not claim
to know whether any god does or doesn’t exist.
An atheist would often state that the lack of proof for god is enough proof that god
does not exist, verses an agnostic who does not determine the existence or non-existence
of god through proof, instead only states that we cannot know and therefore god can
or cannot exist.
The two can be classified differently.
Atheism is a lack of belief.
Agnosticism is a theory of knowledge that supports different belief systems.
The approach to each one also differs.
Where being atheist is based on what a person does or doesn’t believe, but being agnostic
cares about what it is possible to prove as a living person.
Being atheist is often associated with strong convictions that will only change after proof
from other views, where as being agnostic is more about looking at all possibilities
and what cannot be known.
Atheism claims that we as people are here now without a greater purpose, and after death
there is nothing.
Agnosticism follows the same view as with the existence of god, but that it might be
possible for life after death, though it is just as unlikely.
Because of these opposing views, atheists will often criticize agnostic for not taking
a firm stand.
Likewise, an agnostic might criticize an atheist for being too extreme in their view.
It must be said that an agnostic can be an atheist, but an atheist cannot be an agnostic.
Since being atheist by definition means denying the possibility that a god can exist, but
being agnostic no god is a possibility, but we may also simply not know what is beyond
our physical world.
One of the other big differences between atheists and agnostics is we don’t tend to recognize
people for being agnostic but we definitely do for being atheist.
We took a look at a few of the most famous atheists and what they believed.
We found many of the outspoken atheists are actors.
Here’s what a few had to say.
Daniel Radcliffe, who’s best known for playing the Harry Potter films, said though he doesn’t
preach atheism, he is a "militant atheist when religion starts impacting legislation."
Morgan Freeman said that it all comes down to a matter of believing, especially if people
who believe in God don't think the world is more than 6,000 years old.
And Brad Pitt was quoted by MSN as saying "I'm 20% atheist and 80% agnostic.”
Another famous person where there seems to be some debate in whether he was a believer
or not is Albert Einstein, best known for being a pioneer in physics, he was born into
a secular Jewish family.
As an adult he seemed to reject the idea of god, but then he also contradicted himself
on a number of occasions.
Here are two of Einstein’s quotes.
“I want to know how God created this world.
I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.
I want to know his thoughts.
The rest are details”.
But then he also said, “I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider
ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”
Hmm….atheist, agnostic, or a man of faith?
We’ll let you be the judge.
Being atheist or being agnostic seem to be closely related and so are often misunderstood
as the same, but in fact they have clear differences as we’ve seen.
To understand the differences completely it may sometimes be easier to speak directly
to the individual to explore their views on god and the afterlife.
Do you think we can ever prove the existence of a God?
Let us know by commenting below.
Also be sure to check out our other video, What Happens When You Die?
We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of The Infographics Show!
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