I would like to start off this post by distinguishing between three terms: atheism, non-religion, and agnosticism. Atheism typically means a position of active denial of the existence of God; non-religion is a position of passive denial, of disinterest; agnosticism is a position whereby you say that it is impossible to know either way.
I often see agnosticism being misused as a euphemism for atheism; people say they’re agnostic when they really mean that they’re atheists – but they want to appear more open-minded and fair than “close-minded” atheism might be. Agnosticism is seen as being a bit “nicer”. I think that’s a load of rubbish. If you are an atheist then at least have the courage to stand up and say it. If you’re non-religious then say so. If you simply don’t know, then fair enough – in fact, I would expect most teenagers or young adults to have this position! Agnosticism, on the other hand, is the position where you think that it’s impossible to ever know enough to decide either way. If you think that the evidence points quite clearly towards God not existing, you’re not agnostic – you’re an atheist. So just say it!
To be fair though, atheism is a term that is laden with baggage. Perhaps it might be more correct to use the term “materialist” or “naturalist” instead of using the term “atheist”, because in our common use of the word those terms are closer to what we actually mean to say. Atheism is merely the belief that there is no God, yet when someone calls him/herself an atheist there is generally an awful lot more implied than just that. In this post I want to examine some of that baggage. (I think the kind of atheism I am mostly focusing on here is what is called “New Atheism”, i.e. atheism that is actively dedicated to opposing religion.) Continue reading