What’s the Difference Between Atheism and Agnosticism?

Studies have found that both atheists and agnostics are surprisingly knowledgable about a variety of religions. Which begs the commonly-asked question: What is the difference between someone who defines themselves as “atheist” and a professed “agnostic?”

Atheist vs. agnostic

There is a key distinction. An atheist doesn’t believe in a god or divine being. The word originates with the Greek atheos, which is built from the roots a- “without” + theos “a god”.

However, an agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrine. Agnostics assert that it’s impossible for human beings to know anything about how the universe was created and if divine beings exist.

Agnosticism was coined by biologist T.H. Huxley and comes from the Greek agnostos, which means “unknown or unknowable.”

Theist vs. deist

To complicate matters, atheists and agnostics are often confused with theists and deistsA theist is the opposite of an atheist. Theists believe in the existence of a god or gods.

Like a theist, a deist believes in God. But a deist believes that while God created the universe, natural laws determine how the universe plays out.

Deists are often connected to Isaac Newton’s Clockwork Universe theory, where the universe is compared to a clock that has been wound up and set in motion by God but is governed by the laws of science.

 

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