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”) and theos (“a god”). Atheism is the doctrine or belief that there is no 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 whether or not divine beings exist.

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

For example:

  • While I now consider myself an atheist, I did attend church regularly as a child.
  • If you’re not certain that god exists, you could describe yourself as agnostic.
  • Given that the director is an outspoken atheist, it didn’t surprise us that the film was so critical of organized religion.

WATCH: Is "Agnostic" Only About Religion?


Theist vs. deist

To complicate matters, atheists and agnostics are often confused with theists and deists. A 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, which compares the universe to a clock that has been wound up and set in motion by God but is governed by the laws of science.

For example:

  • As an atheist, Edgar has endured quite a few heated arguments with theists who want to win him over to their point of view.
  • Many scholars have described Thomas Jefferson as a deist because he rejected certain aspects of Christianity, such as miracles and resurrection, but he most certainly believed in God.


Religious or not, you likely say goodbye on a daily basis. But were you aware of the word’s holy history?

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