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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Intellectual Cowardice behind 'Agnostic Atheists'

For certain questions, the answer seems so obvious they feel ridiculous to ask. Questions like: "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" Or (usually asked after you've rammed into something and are doubled over in pain) did that hurt? The answers for each are pretty evident.

What about the question "How Just how much meat do vegetarians eat?" This question strikes one to be much like the others, with the answer being "None, of course!" But in reality that isn't the case. A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that two thirds of those who self-identified as vegetarians ate meat, fish, or poultry on at least one of the two specific days they were polled on.1A Daily Beast article cites other studies with similar findings.2

It may seem bizarre those who eat meat on a semi-regular basis would identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, but as the author of the Daily Beast article, himself a vegan , states: "some vegetarians like the taste of meat, and we sometimes do things we want to do even when we know we shouldn't."3

This is all nonsense. As I've explained before, the term agnostic atheist is self-contradictory. The theist believes in some type of God, the atheist does not believe in some type of God, and the agnostic makes no claim either way; he neither believes nor denies God's existence. His answer is a simple "I don't know." The so-called agnostic atheists try to claim that while the term atheist describes the beliefs of a person, the term agnostic describes the knowledge claim of the person. They do this by abusing the term agnostic by breaking it down to its Greek gnosis which translates into the English knowledge. I've explained all of this in my article.

I bring this up to prove a point; sometimes people will use labels for themselves that are not true to reality but as a way of expressing what they would like the facts to be. That's what I'm finding with a relatively recent movement with the atheist community. Within the last five years or so there has been a growing number of people who define themselves as "agnostic atheists." They claim to be agnostic in that they don't know if a God exists but an atheist because they don't believe a God exists. They even use cute little drawings to demonstrate their point.

Dodging the Need to Support a Belief

So, why would atheists begin to try and change the meaning of agnosticism and atheism to be somehow compatible? What is the advantage? Simply put, the so-called agnostic atheists don't want to bear the burden of proving what they believe. By claiming that they believe in no God but they don't know whether or not He exists, they think they have removed themselves from having to justify their non-belief. "I can lack a belief in God, but I don't claim to have any knowledge of a god or Gods' existence" is the way many would frame it.

Such statements are intellectually cowardly. If anyone claims any kind of believe and also claims he or she has no basis for that belief is to say the belief is entirely ungrounded and may be disregarded. The so-called agnostic atheist will quickly respond "I didn't claim a belief, I said I lacked belief." Ah, but that's a poor attempt at dodging the question. As I argue here, any reasonable aware person understands the concept of God, the concept of ultimate beginnings, and the fact that effects have causes. By claiming to be an atheist, they are negating the claim that God does exist. They aren't neutral but they are saying "I have heard of this concept of God and my belief holds it isn't true." Thus they are making a claim of their own and they need to provide evidence for why they disbelieve the theist's claim.

An intellectually honest person who has no knowledge of something would say he doesn't believe one way or another. For example, I don't follow baseball, so if two baseball fans who disagreed asked me who I think was going to win the World Series next season, I would be agnostic on the question; I have no belief on the subject. But if they both provided me with relevant information and their reasoning, I can make a decision based on that knowledge. It may not be a great decision due to my lack of experience, but I can at least tell them which in my mind is the more likely conclusion based on what I now know. At that point, I am no longer agnostic. I have reasons upon which to base my belief. This is all explained in my article "If You Want to be Reasonable, Then You May Have to Believe."

To be a true vegan and shun the consumption of all animal products is really tough. It requires dedication and sacrifice. You can't honestly call yourself a vegan if once a week you indulge in a juicy In-n-Out Double Double. Similarly, the person who uses the term "agnostic atheist" is trying to have it both ways. He or she wants to deny God's existence, but doesn't want to bear any burden for the justification of that disbelief. The so-called agnostic atheist is hoping push all of the work onto the theist. But that isn't reasonable. Any moderately intelligent person understands the concept of God and at least some of the reasons for why people believe he exists. They should have the intellectual honesty to at least stand up for their own non-belief.


1. And, Ella H Haddad. " What Do Vegetarians in the United States Eat?" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 01 Sept. 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
2. Chituc, Vlad. "Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
3. Chituc, Vlad. 2015.


  1. Thank you for the blog post. Permit me to make a couple comments:

    First, I fail to see how it is self-contradictory to describe oneself as an agnostic atheist. You may not *like* the definitions sometimes used by skeptics, and you may want to argue that they are confusing or unpopular; but that doesn't make them self-contradictory.

    Second, I am not at all convinced that these definitions are very often (if ever) used to dodge having to support or justify strong atheism. Your charge of intellectual dishonesty/cowardice may be plausible-sounding on the surface, but, in my experience, it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. If, for instance, you actually ask people who use these definitions why they do so, you may get a variety of answers but almost never will it be "because it makes it easier to avoid defending strong atheism." In fact, a lot of people who use the weak atheism definition actually *reject* strong atheism outright! So, it doesn't look like your charge of intellectual dishonesty/cowardice will stick.

    1. It isn't that I don't like the definition. It is that a well understood definition had been established and used by philosophers, atheists, and agnostics very well. THe SEP makse the distinction as does the OED and top thinkers like Roderick Chisholm. Why then should I accept a radical change to the definition proposed by a few atheists on the Internet? Again, its like someone claiming to be a vegan who also enjoys a T-bone steak once a week. It isn't that I don't like his definition of what a vegan is; it's that he;s being misleading in using it in that way.

    2. Well, let me say first that I don't see it as being all that radical of a change: unbelief in a deity, rather than disbelief.

      That said, I agree that the disbelief definition of atheism is older than the unbelief definition. I also agree that the disbelief definition is the one used by most professional philosophers even nowadays (although there have been some notable exceptions, e.g. Antony Flew). But neither of these facts strikes me as a good reason to reject the newer and surprisingly popular unbelief definition of atheism.

      Moreover, nobody is forcing you to use the unbelief definition. If you want to stick to the older, disbelief definition, that's fine with me. Frankly, I prefer that one too. But the freedom goes both ways---people are also free to use the unbelief definition. Neither definition is "incorrect" or "wrong"---it's just a matter of personal preference which you want to use.

    3. But certainly you can see the problems with words being redefined to whatever tickles one's fancy! Forget about any kind of accurate polling where people are asked their religious position. However, more importantly (and the only reason I bring the issue up again and again) is I continually run into the following scenario:
      PERSON: I don't believe in God. I am an atheist!
      ME: Can you provide reasonable evidence for your atheism?
      PERSON: I don't have to. I don't know whether there is a god out there. I'm agnostic.

      That's confused.

    4. Sure, I agree that we should be careful with language, and not re-define words on a whim. But that's not what is happening here.

      Moreover, let's not forget that the cat is already out of the bag, so to speak. It might be nice if everyone shared the same definition of atheism, but unfortunately that is just not the case anymore. I'm not sure if it ever was. And if uniformity is your chief goal, why not try to get people agree on the unbelief definition rather than the disbelief one? After all, at this point it's hard to say which is most popular. It may very well be the case that nowadays the unbelief definition is most common!

      Now, as for your hypothetical scenario, I don't see why you find it "confused." Maybe it's frustrating for you because you want to seek out strong atheists, and to do that you have to wade through a lot of weak atheists. But in that case, you can just ask people whether their atheism is of the weak or strong variety. Problem solved, right?

    5. Nope. Read his scenario again. And by the way it’s not hypothetical, it happens regularly. Asking for evidence to justify the atheist UN or DIS belief and getting a I don’t have to response is cowardice. It’s a meaningless rejection, not a refutation which is required once you assert that something is false.

  2. If you honestly think we call ourselves "Weak Atheists" just to make it harder for you to debate us, it's because all your arguments are based on bashing a single aspect of what you think Atheism is and you're too stupid to think of new arguments.

    We're not as narrow-minded as you think. And if you can't comprehend that, it's because you're projecting your own narrow-minded stupidity onto us.


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