How to Turn An Atheist into An Agnostic

18 Feb

Got any atheist friends?  You might try the following to move them out of atheism into one of two kinds of agnosticism.  There

Richard Dawkins of "The God Delusion" fame

are three questions that you can ask your atheist friend which, if answered honestly, necessarily will transmogrify him or her into an agnostic.  Here they are:

1.  Ask your atheist friend:  “Of all the knowledge we could ever attain as a human race, what percentage of that knowledge do you think we possess right now?”  [He might say, “Oh, 50%.”]

2.  Second question:  “Okay.  Of that 50% of all the knowledge we could ever learn, how much of that 50% do you personally possess?” [He might say, “I’m fairly smart.  I did well on the SAT’s.  I’d say, 10%.  Yep. That’s right.  About 10%!”]

"Son, I'm so PROUD of you!"

3.  “My, your mother must have been proud of you!  Third question:  ‘Is it possible that of that 10% of that 50% knowledge that you have, is it possible that evidence for God outside of your present knowledge exists?”  [An honest atheist would have to say, “Well, yes, I guess it’s possible.”]

“Congratulations,” you now say.  “You’ve moved from the category of ATHEIST (someone who declares there is no evidence of God) to the category of AGNOSTIC (someone who says, “I don’t know if there is any evidence of God.”).

You might then say, “Might I ask you one more question?  What kind of agnostic are you?”

He might respond, “What do you mean, ‘What KIND of agnostic am I?’  You mean democrat or republican?”

“No, no,” you say.  “I mean it appears there are two kinds of agnostic:  the APATHETIC AGNOSTIC and the EAGER AGNOSTIC.  Which one are you?  The APATHETIC AGNOSTIC says “There may be evidence for God — but I don’t care. Get out of my face or I will sick my dog on you!”  The EAGER AGNOSTIC says, “I don’t know of any evidence for God — but if you have any, will you share it with me?”  “Which kind are you, my friend?”

In our next blog we will talk about how to deal with both types of agnostics — and how this line of reasoning can be (profitably)

"Used against the CHRISTIAN?!"

used against the Christian!

Discussion Questions: How might this line of reasoning be used against the Christian?  And how can such an attack be of benefit to the Christian’s witness?


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13 responses to “How to Turn An Atheist into An Agnostic

  1. Brian Westley

    February 19, 2011 at 2:16 am

    You just don’t know what “atheist” means.

    “Atheist” means “not a theist.”

    “Atheist” does not imply any particular degree of certainty; you are adding that as a requirement to your own idiosyncratic (and incorrect) definition of “atheist.”

    Plus, this is so tiresome. I always see people try to use this false “certainty” requirement to state that atheists are really agnostics. However, to be consistent, the same standard needs to be used against believers, and nearly all Christians (and Muslims, Hindus, etc) are suddenly agnostics instead of whatever religion they used to follow.

    But I never see people do that, they only do it in an attempt to redefine atheists. But that’s just dishonest wordplay.

    • larrydixon

      February 19, 2011 at 3:29 am

      Thank you for your comments. I’m suggesting that to say there is no God is to claim a kind of omniscience, when humility is called for. You are exactly right that the same line of reasoning can be wielded against any true believer (which I deal with in my next blog). Please accept my apologies if I came across “tiresome” with “dishonest wordplay.” That was not my intention. I really do appreciate your comments. Larry

  2. thekeyofatheist

    February 19, 2011 at 4:46 am

    I definitely agree with Brian about this standard applying equally (if not more) to religious believers.

    Here’s the thing about atheism and agnosticism: The terms are so contentious and so personal that I would argue the only reasonable course is to allow people to self-identify however they choose using these terms. Trying to settle on a single definition for all self-described atheists and agnostics is fine in theory, but in practice it’s a losing battle. Both terms have fairly diverse usage and both admit of a great deal of nuance in many of their common permutations.

    Acknowledging the self-identification of others is a basic courtesy, but in this particular discussion it’s also a practical necessity.

    • larrydixon

      February 19, 2011 at 7:54 am

      Jakob, is it?
      Thanks for your comment. My blog is attempting to deal with those who do self-identify as atheists. Of course, none of us have the right to use terms as we choose, do we? I also agree with the person who said that a label is just one step from libel — and I certainly am not looking to libel anyone. All of us, I would suggest, have both too little — and too much — information to be atheists!

  3. Omar Hamada

    February 19, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Thanks, Larry. Excellent post!

  4. John Barron Jr.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Brian, does God exist? How sure are you?

  5. Shamelessly Atheist

    February 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Who would be convinced by such a prime example of argumentum ad ingorantium? Ray Comfort is not someone to be emulated….

  6. zqtx

    February 20, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Here, here – Shamelessly!

    Would it really serve as a “victory” to the theist to change the label by redefining the words anyway?

    This type of discussion brings nothing to the actual debate.

  7. larrydixon

    February 20, 2011 at 8:34 am

    I am certainly not trying to label — or libel — anyone (see my response above). As you all will see in my next post, I believe both atheists and Christians can use a dose of humility — and live life based on the evidence we do have. I am deeply grateful for Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God.” Anybody else?

  8. Brian Westley

    February 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    “My blog is attempting to deal with those who do self-identify as atheists.”

    But you aren’t using the same definition of “atheist” that atheists use.

    “Brian, does God exist? How sure are you?”

    I see no reason to think any gods exist. Pretty sure.

  9. George W.

    February 23, 2011 at 9:39 am

    The problem is wordplay. Gnostic is defined as: of, relating to, or possessing intellectual or spiritual knowledge. Agnostic:
    a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
    b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.
    2. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something.

    You are trying to be gnostic with the agnostic atheist.
    Your imaginary “merely agnostic” does not fit any of these definitions.
    By definition 1.a. he would have had to say “No.” to question #3 in your conversation because by definition he believes it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
    If he answered “yes” then he is a gnostic who believes he has insufficient information.
    By definition 1.b. he is not an agnostic because he professed true atheism.
    I already know your “out”. You are going to use “true” atheism as your metric. Well, if it is impossible to be a skeptic and an atheist then why would the dictionary use the word “but” in between the two clauses?
    By definition 2. your friend is no “mere agnostic” because he has made a commitment to one side of the question. He is not likely even doubtful that his position is incorrect. You are trying to impose absolute unequivocal certainty as a prerequisite to being an atheist. Many theists don’t meet that metric. Those that do can still be wrong.
    If I asked the theist question #3, but asked if it was possible that a proof exists for an entirely material and monist universe, would he be required to honestly answer in the positive, given the more obvious answers to questions #1 and 2?
    You are requiring both certainty and intellectual arrogance in order to hold an opinion of God’s existence, but only, it seems, if that opinion differs from your own.
    By asking and answering question #3, you expose the intellectual dishonesty of the argument. You insist that an honest atheist would have to say, “Well, yes, I guess it’s possible.”, yet this admission would contradict agnosticism as an epistemology. You cannot hold the belief that knowledge of God both cannot be known and can be known at the same time.
    You are asking an atheist to affirm gnosticism, that knowledge of God can be known, then calling him an agnostic. Really?
    You cannot impose your misplaced certainty in your position as a prerequisite for taking the other position.

    • B. Fuggler

      September 25, 2011 at 5:06 am

      Well put, George W. Mr. DIxon’s silence is deafening.


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