Written by Ajit Krishna Dasa
Positions in Relation to the Existence of God
In How to Talk to Atheists Part 1 I made the argument that we as devotees have to avoid using the definitions of atheism given by atheists, and other non-believers of Vedic theism, and instead go with the definitions given by our revealed Vedic scriptures. Here in Part 2 I will shed some light on the respective positions that are possible to hold in regard to the questions of God’s existence.
Before we get into each individual position, please note:
- In this text I am referring to God with a capital “G”. In other words, I am limiting the scope to the question of the existence of a monotheistic God.
- I am only talking about what people profess to know or believe, independent of their professed position’s intellectual merit, and independent of whether or not they truly belong to the category they verbally subscribe to; some people are deluded about their position, and some are deliberately not telling the truth about their real position (sometimes for strategic reasons).
Here is an illustration to aid understanding followed by a deeper explanation:
Gnostic theism (a.k.a. strong theism, hard theism and positive theism)
This is the position that it is possible to know for certain that God exists (typically by some combination of alleged empirical evidence, logical arguments or revelation). A gnostic theist profess to know that God exists.
Gnostic atheism (a.k.a. strong atheism, hard atheism and positive atheism)
This is the position that it is possible to know for certain that God does not exist (typically by some combination of alleged empirical evidence and logical arguments). A gnostic atheist is a person who professes that he/she knows that God does not exist.
Agnostic theism (a.k.a. weak theism, soft theism and negative theism)
Agnostic theism is the position of belief in the existence of God, while not claiming absolute certainty. The agnostic theist is basically any person who profess belief in God, while not professing certain knowledge of God’s existence.
- A person professing belief in God while thinking he/she has good arguments to substantiate his/her position as rationally superior to atheism.
- A person professing belief in God while thinking that God’s existence cannot and/or should not be proved, because the whole idea of faith is that we should believe/have faith in God as opposed to knowing God.
- A person professing belief in God who has never really given the God-question much thought. Perhaps the belief in God was just handed down through family or tradition, and skepticism towards theism was never really considered.
- A person who believes in God, thinking that his/her feelings about God constitutes better reasons for belief in God than the evidence provided for and against theism and atheism. Belonging to this category could be a person believing that the arguments for the existence of God are not very good, or perhaps even worse than the atheistic arguments, but who still chooses to believe out of fear, hope or because it feels good.
Agnostic atheism (a.k.a. weak atheism, soft atheism and negative atheism)
Agnostic atheism is basically the position of lack of belief in God, while not denying the possibility that God might exist. The agnostic atheist is basically any person who either 1) does not know about God, or 2) who profess lack of belief in God, while not professing certain knowledge of God’s non-existence.
- A person professing lack of belief in God due to claims of insufficient evidence for God. Such a person could be a person who has given the question much thought, claiming to have considered all the typical arguments presented from both sides, but still finds the theistic arguments unconvincing. The person might also find the arguments for atheism better than those for theism (perhaps very convincing), though not absolutely final.
- A person who is open to the idea that God exists, and who might even prefer this, but who still feel intellectually obliged to maintain that the arguments for theism are not strong enough in themselves, or that they are not strong enough to outweigh the atheistic arguments.
- A person who thinks that it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God, and who therefore sees atheism as the default position, having no reason to believe in God.
- A person who profess a lack of belief in God because of never really having given the God-question much thought. Perhaps his lack of belief in God was just handed down through family or tradition, and skepticism towards atheism was never really considered.
- A person who profess a lack of belief in God, thinking that his/her subjective feelings about God are better reasons for maintaining a lack of belief in God. Perhaps atheism just feels better for such a person, or perhaps the person dislikes or fears God. The person might hold a lack of belief in God out of sentiment while not being able to counter the arguments for theism.
- An agnostic atheist could, and is sometimes, extended to include anything that lacks belief in God – be it a person, animal or even a dead physical object.
With the above my only claim is to have presented the most common categories and sub-categories of theism and atheism that people use to position themselves. I have not exhausted the topic.
Since, according to Vaisnava theology, no one is really an atheist only gnostic theism is accepted as a true position. Atheists are people who try to suppress their eternal inborn knowledge of God, and as such their hidden motive is to deny God, even though they claim, for strategic reasons, to only lack belief in Him (agnostic atheism). As Vaisnavas we want to develop an apologetic methodology that is in line with this scriptually correct understanding. The development of such an apologetic methodology will be the topic of the following segments.