My Specific Position

How I Define My Current Paradigm

Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.02.10

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In a very broad sense, “atheism” can mean simply “the absence of belief that any deities exist”. In that sense, I am an atheist.

However, that’s not the commonly accepted meaning of the word, especially among many self-styled atheists. The narrower usage of the word is “specifically the position that there are no deities”, with the level of certainty approaching one hundred percent.

My position is that we do not know for sure — there being no evidence either way — whether there is any god.
There are many definitions of atheism, several of which could apply to me. I’ve chosen to identify as an agnostic atheist (definition) because my position is that we do not know for sure — there being no evidence either way — whether there is any god or other heretofore undetectable intelligence that exercises control over the universe.

I do not believe in any god, fairy, ghost, magic, or other imaginary being, power, or force. I don’t believe there is any evidence that any god exists, though I haven’t ruled out the possibility that some evidence will someday be found. I think one shouldn’t rush to judgment without evidence and that all underlying assumptions should be examined.

I recognize that to a Christian, Muslim, or other theist, my position is equivalent to atheism. To most believers, a person is “either in or out”. And, to many of today’s believers, atheism is worse than their archenemy religions — a typical Christian will despise an atheist more than he despises a Muslim, for example (source). For that reason, I empathize with atheist activists, especially in their distaste for the pointlessness — and sometimes outright harm — of religion in our world. I am sympathetic to their cause for recognition and protection from persecution.

I choose to avoid a complete assertion of certainty, having been fairly certain of something which turned out to be demonstrably false.
However, I choose to avoid a complete assertion of certainty, having been fairly certain of something (which turned out to be demonstrably false) for half my life. God wasn’t something I took for granted; I believed with every fiber of my being that he was as real as the LCD screen I’m staring at as I type this. That every atom in the universe was created by him and under his control. That he knew of everything, past, present, and future. That the Bible was entirely true — inerrant.

Having once been so certain of something and then finding it untrue, I hope my dear atheist friends can forgive me for the lack of confidence to have that same certainty that there is no god whatsoever.

The burden of proof is on the gods and his/her/its/their followers. If there’s no evidence of an elephant in my closet, I won’t believe in the elephant. If someone asserts there is an elephant in there, it’s up to them (or it) to prove its existence. It is not up to me to disprove it. There should at least be elephant poop on the carpet, or something. Perhaps strange noises coming from in there, or an odor. And even if I became somewhat convinced the elephant might exist, then when I open the door to take the elephant for a walk, and the closet is empty and clean, I would become very certain that it had not been in there.

In the case of invisible deities, I assert that it’s extremely unlikely that any exist, given the complete and utter lack of evidence. However, I realize that atheism is falsifiable — that is, certain evidence could disprove atheism, if that evidence ever presented itself. It hasn’t. But it could.

Besides the traditionally considered deities — Yhwh, Allah, Thor, whatever — I maintain that it’s possible there is something more subtle, less tangible, less describable than all of those. And any of these are less likely than finding some alternate-evolution mole people living under the crust of the Earth, but it could happen.

“I don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable position to hold, especially if there’s no evidence either way.
A preacher once said to me, “Someone either believes in God, or doesn’t. There can’t be an in-between.” Of course, this is ludicrous. “I don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable position to hold, especially if there’s no supporting evidence either way. Think of any proposition for which no evidence — for or against — is known to exist. For example: “Life exists on other planets.” One cannot be certain either way with what we know today. You could argue that it’s very likely or very unlikely, or take the position “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.”

In other words, there is a sliding scale of certainty. Without enough facts, it seems inadvisable to either completely agree or completely disagree. I created the following graphic in early 2015, based on some sketch drawings I made in mid-2014.

Sliding Scale Of Certainty, copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry

The scale below was written by a fairly famous atheist, though I think any reasonable person from any point on the scale can recognize the steps.

1. Strong Theist: 100% certain of God. Knowing, rather than believing.
2. De facto Theist: God is very probable. Live with the assumption God exists.
3. Weak Theist: Very uncertain, but inclined to belief.
4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are equally probable.
5. Weak Atheist: Very uncertain, but inclined to skepticism.
6. De facto Atheist: God is very improbable. Live with the assumption God doesn’t exist.
7. Strong Atheist: 100% certain of no God.

(Source: The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2008, Mariner, pg. 73)

I spent the first 20 years of my life at or very close to number 1 on this scale, and the next 20 years at number 2 or 3. When I sat down to write this page, I was a solid number 4. My current “agnostic atheism” would fall at about number 6 on this scale, perhaps 6.5. When I refer to “atheism” with no qualifiers, I generally mean anyone in the 5 to 7 range.

It depends on which definitions you’re using and how specific you want to be. I usually want to be very specific, but am often driven to generalities to save time and make sentences easier to read. Generally speaking, I am an atheist. And an agnostic. And a skeptic. But for those like me who appreciate specificity, I can be most accurately described as an “agnostic atheist”.

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