Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Agnostic vs. Atheist

What is the difference between agnostic and atheist?

The Latin roots of these words provide some light.

Agnostic comes from a- which means no, and gnosis which means knowledge. An agnostic just says that he does not know whether God exists or not.

Atheist also comes from a- meaning no, and theos which means God. An atheist then says that there is no God.

The Catholic Catechism, the product of four centuries of theological study, further explains what I just said.


Agnosticism assumes a number of forms.

In certain cases the agnostic refrains from denying God; instead he postulates the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing itself, and about which nothing can be said.

In other cases, the agnostic makes no judgment about God's existence, declaring it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny.

Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience.

Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.


The name "atheism" covers many very different phenomena.

One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time.

Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history."

Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth."

Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances.

"Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion."

Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God.

Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God. . . . "

"For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart."


Abecedarius Rex said...

Your posts are always spot on. An excellent resource and very clear. WRT atheism vs. agnosticism: Is there a third classification? One who believes in (or gives willed assent to) the existence of a god even though they do not think the god external to their own person? Or is that just atheism in another form?

Raul said...

Thanks Abecedarius. Appreciate your comments. :)

If one believes in the existence of a god, then one is a theist. Now if someone is theist and does not think the god is external to his own person, then perhaps that person thinks he is god (he falls into egolatry or megalomania), or he thinks everything is god (he falls into pantheism).

In a theoretical sense these guys are theists in that they adore or worship an ultimate goal (the self), but in a practical sense they are atheists in that they do not worship the real God who, being almighty and the first cause which we are not, is never identified to ourselves.

However, we should not also forget that there is another interpretation of "do not think the god external to their own person", i.e. the specific meaning of St. Augustine's finding God (the real almighty God) residing in the depths of our personal being.