Religions and ethical systems
Agnostics and Agnosticism:
Uncertainty about whether God exists:
Adults in the world are mainly Theists: they believe in the existence
of one or more Gods and/or Goddesses, derived from among the many thousands of deities who have been
worshiped by humans down through history.
A minority of people are:
- Strong Atheists who lack a belief in a deity or deities, or
- Agnostics who feel that there is no way to determine if a deity or deities exist.
Most public opinion polls indicate that they form less than 10% of the adult population.
Most Agnostics and Atheists believe that the hundreds of the religious
creation stories that exist in the world have religion backwards: A deity or deities
did not create humans; it was humans who created
the many thousands of Gods and Goddess who have been devoutly and sincerely
worshiped over many tens of thousands of years. They believe that the process of creating deities probably continues today.
When Agnostics are asked whether a deity or deities
exist, they don't have a definite yes or no answer. Agnostic are unable to find convincing evidence that one or more deities exist. They have also been unable to find convincing proof that no deity exists. Many feel that we will never know for certain.
However a new statistical polling technique was developed. It determined this percentage of people who didn't believe in God without directly asking the people being polled what their religious beliefs are. They found that the percentage is on the order of 25%.
During 1958, Bertrand Russell, an English philosopher commented on whether "Atheist" or "Agnostic would be a better term for his religious beliefs about God. He wrote:
"I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely." 1,2
Some Agnostics who enjoy religious discussion, fellowship, and/or ritual join a
local congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Association or
an Ethical Culture group. Many others remain solitary Agnostics.
Many Agnostics and Atheists believe that it is impossible to prove God's existence. However, there is an obvious method. Unfortunately, it would require both God's existence and cooperation. God could prepare a list of the next dozen earthquakes in the world: their date, precise time; location; strength on the Richter scale, and depth. This would be a simple task for God, because most Gods are perceived as all-knowing. However, such predictions are well beyond human knowledge. No deity, to my knowledge, has ever chosen to do this.
How common are Agnostics in the U.S.?:
This is not a simple number to estimate. When public opinion pollsters ask adults what their religious affiliation is, some Agnostics refer to themselves as Agnostics, or Atheists, or Secular Humanists. Others call themselves "NOTAs" (NOT Affiliated with any religion), or "Nones," or "nothing in particular," etc.
A public opinion survey by the Pew Research Center found that 22.8% of adults are unaffiliated with an organized religion. This number increased from 16.1 to 22.8% between 2007 and 2015, and continues its upward trend today. The unaffiliated are now the second largest religious group in the U.S., exceeded in numbers only by evangelical Christians. Most of the increase among Agnostics is believed to have ocurred among older teens and young adults. The number includes:
- 4.0% Agnostics,
- 3.1% Atheists,
- 15.8 Persons who are "nothing in particular," etc. 3
In contrast, adults affiliated with various Christian denominations has decreased by a slightly larger number of percentage points from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2015-MAY. The actual number of Christian adults has shrunk by about 5 million over 8 years, and continues to shrink today. 3,4
The differences between Agnostics and Atheists:
Atheism is often divided among into two groups: strong Atheists, and weak Atheists:
- Strong Atheism -- sometimes called Explicit Atheism -- refers to individuals who firmly assert that there is no God, Goddess, or pantheon of Gods or Goddesses.
Sometimes, a Strong Atheist is defined as a person who firmly denies the existence of specific Deities -- like Zeus or Thor. We do not recommend this definition, because it would make the vast majority of humans into Strong Atheists. There are books that list thousands of Gods and/or Goddesses. Most adults believe in very few if any of these thousands of deities listed. Yet if you called them Strong Atheists, they would probably be quite offended!.
- Weak Atheism -- sometimes called Implicit Atheism or Agnostic Atheism -- are persons with no belief in the existence a God or Goddess. However, they probably hold open the possibility that such a deity might some day be proven to exist or not exist.
Agnostics are persons who hold beliefs essentially identical to weak Atheists. However, many Agnostics believe that it is impossible to prove either the existence or the non-existence of God with the current level of human knowledge -- perhaps forever.
Topics covered in this section:
A News Feed:
About.com has a news feed about Agnosticism, Atheism,
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Dale McGowan, "Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics," Greenwood, 2012, Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- Portions of McGowan's book are available online on Google Books at: https://books.google.com/
- "America's changing religious landscape," Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life, 2015-MAY-12, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
- Rich Schapiro & Erica Pearson "Americans are less Christian, more atheist and agnostic: Pew survey," New York Daily News, 2015-MAY-12, at: http://www.nydailynews.com/
Copyright © 1997 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2020-NOV-24
Author: B.A. Robinson.