First I will grant that agnosticism (a better word for this being ‘apisticism’) is neutral in order to make the claim that atheism is a belief because it lacks the neutrality of apisticism. Then I will challenge the neutrality of apisticism by arguing out that to claim to be apistic once one has examined the evidence, is to (in bad faith) be no longer neutral, so that both claims—to be atheist, or to be apistic—reflect belief.
I. Negative belief is belief nonetheless
A common claim of many atheists is that atheism is not a belief, but a lack of one. However, a lack of belief in either a theist or atheist direction is apisticism (a lack of knowledge is agnosticism)—someone who lacks belief about god(s) believes neither that god(s) exists (theism), nor that no god(s) exists (atheism). So to claim the title ‘atheist’ is to believe there are no god(s) (positive belief) at the same time one disbelieves in the existence of god(s) (negative belief). Negative belief is belief nonetheless. As mentioned in the 115th Philosophers’ Carnival, Sam Harris writes in “The Moral Landscape” that, according to his doctoral research, belief and disbelief both “showed highly localized signal changes in the caudate” (p. 226, note 35)—it’s because disbelief is a manifestation of belief. Here is a simple way to display this:
Let it be assumed that “the existence of god(s)” is x, and “the nonexistence of god(s)” is y. x is not-y, and y is not-x.
Atheism is both:
Positive belief: I believe in the non-existence of god(s). I believe in y (or, I believe in not-x).
Negative belief: I do not believe in the existence of god(s). I do not believe in x (or, I do not believe in not-y).
Theism is both:
Positive belief: I believe in the existence of God(s). I believe in x (or, I believe in not-y).
Negative belief: I do not believe in the non-existence of God(s). I do not believe in y (or, I do not believe in not-x).
Apisticism is none of the above. “I don’t believe either way—I don’t believe in the existence of god(s) and I don’t believe in the non-existence of God(s).” “I believe in ~x and ~y,” which is equivalent to “I do not believe in x or y”.
There are positive and negative aspects to every belief, whether or not it is an “ism”. For example…
Let it be assumed that “the sun will rise” is x, and “the sun will not rise” is y. As before, x is ~y, y is ~x.
The Sun Will Rise
Positive: I believe the sun will rise. I believe x (or, I believe ~y).
Negative: I do not believe the sun will not rise. I do not believe y (or, I do not believe ~x).
The Sun Will Not Rise
Positive: I believe the sun will not rise. I believe y (or, I believe ~x).
Negative: I do not believe the sun will rise. I do not believe x (or, I do not believe ~y).
Apisticism is none of the above. “I don’t believe either way—I don’t believe the sun will not rise, but I don’t believe the sun will rise, either.” “I believe ~x and ~y,” which is equivalent to “I do not believe x or y”.
When we doubt a certain belief, it is because we think its alternative holds some weight—we kinda already believe (positive belief) the alternative belief, and kinda already disbelieve (negative belief) our current one. To disbelieve is to believe the alternative. If an atheist truly lacked belief either way, they would not claim to be an atheist, but would instead claim to be apistic (more commonly mislabelled agnostic).
When there is enough evidence in to make a decision, there is a sense in which apisticism can be a case of “choosing not to choose,” which Sartre called “bad faith”.
II. Agnosticism (really, apisticism) as belief
First discussed was the issue of atheism as belief, objecting that if someone is truly neutral on the existence of god(s), s/he is actually agnostic (again, a better word for this is ‘apistic’), neither theist, nor atheist. However, also discussed was that there is a point at which apisticism amounts to bad faith. This section will focus on this, adding that one can only be apistic about the existence of god(s) if one does not ‘claim’ to be either atheist, theist or apistic. Once one makes a claim, one is no longer neutral.
Theists who have reasons for their belief say that there is enough good evidence that atheists and skeptics fail to critically examine, and claim that it is therefore atheists and skeptics who have blind faith.
Skeptics have blind faith? you ask. It is good to be skeptical and examine all of our beliefs and evidence, but to maintain a skeptical (agnostic, apistic) position is deciding not to decide what we believe. One can say “I am apistic” (or agnostic, or skeptical) if one is not claiming it as a position—if one is in the process of examining the evidence and has not rendered a verdict. But, if one is done examining, one only claims neutral ground in bad faith. Why?…
The evidence for God is in, or there isn’t going to be any. This is especially true if one’s God concept includes goodness and love, because either there has been a demonstration of that good love by now, or there isn’t going to be one. To stick with “I don’t know” is about as honest as choosing not to choose, which Sartre rightly termed “bad faith“. It is like voting using the “eenie meenie miney” method, or the “what s/he said” method, without ever doing any real research.
Most atheists and skeptics who deny they “believe” do so to distance themselves from “believers”—people who they feel are of necessarily blind faith. However, all beliefs lacking absolute certainty involve some degree of faith, not all faith is blind, and blind faith is nowhere found in the Bible. Good faith (epistemologically speaking) is a lack of doubt due to such doubts being answered by strong evidence.
My challenge to atheists, theists and apistics alike is to deal honestly with faith and examine the basis for their belief—what evidence answers their doubts? See this article for evidence of a God who has demonstrated his good, loving essence.