Ignostic igtheists or weak atheists – what’s in a name?

I noticed recently that a friend’s online profile showed “Ignostic” to describe his religious beliefs. I hadn’t heard of this before, so I asked him about it. Joe responded that he’d not done much reading into the subject, but it seemed to sum up his objections to religion.

Put simply, my main reason for taking the ignostic position is that defining what it is you are blathering on about is simply a matter of intellectual honesty…It’s all very well to use words […] in a loose manner in which the listener can get the gist of what you are saying…

I suppose I like the socratian nature of it though: the idea to ask the question “What do you mean by God?” rather than to proscribe an answer to it.

Which is pretty much the informal definition of Ignosticism. It turns out that “ignostic” is a somewhat new term and Wikipedia marks it as a neologism – not yet in common usage or dictionaries.

As far as Wikiedia is concerned, Ignosticism is the same as Igtheism. I have heard of igtheism before – a local humanist explained it as, “Ignorance of existence of god(s), so we might as well act as if they don’t exist.”

The question is, do we need these new terms? The beliefs held by Ignostics and Igtheists seem to be adequately covered by the varieties of atheism and agnosticism. Even within those flavours of belief there is some overlap.

For example, Apathetic Agnosticism states that the existence of a supreme being is both unknown and unknowable and that any such being does not appear to take enough interest in the world to intervene and is therefore irrelevant. This is quite similar to strong agnosticism, or the humourously characterized “militant agnosticism” – “I don’t know and neither do you!”

All of this isn’t very far from the position of most atheists – that of weak atheism. My take on weak atheism is,

“Due to lack of evidence, I don’t believe that there are any gods. I think it is possible that such evidence may exist, but it seems very unlikely.”

Atheism is often misunderstood to mean “Strong atheism” – “There are definitely no gods”. A strong atheist couldn’t actually search everywhere inside and outside the universe to eliminate the possibility of all possible kinds of gods. So almost all atheists are, in practice weak atheists. An atheist may say, “There is no God”, but they will be talking about a specific kind of God and most will also tell you that they’d be willing to change their beliefs if given appropriate evidence.

So if you’re a igtheistic agnostic weak atheist ignostic, what should you write in the tiny box on survey forms? To those who ask you, what response should you give without sounding like a geeky bookworm?

I think it depends on your situation and what you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re talking to a group of bigoted fundamentalists who see atheists as the worst kind of sinners and a scourge to society you may wish to say “agnostic” for a quiet life, or dodge the question entirely. On the other hand, if these people already know you as a decent, moral person, then admitting your are an atheist might force them to reconsider their prejudices. Obviously it depends on how deeply those opinions are ingrained and how well they know you. Certainly prejudices have never been reduced by separating people with different views or lifestyles.

Going for a term like “Ignostic” that most people are unfamiliar with carries less baggage and potential for prejudice. It might also require an explanation allowing your to discuss your beliefs in more detail.

Personally, I tend to answer “humanist”. I know humanism has more to do with lifestyle than belief or disbelief in any deity, but I like that it is a simple and practical answer that tells you more about me than my scepticism about deities.

9 thoughts on “Ignostic igtheists or weak atheists – what’s in a name?

  1. Thanks for mentioning this in your post…

    I’m going to have to ponder a bit over a defence of the word ignostic but I think I still prefer it over igtheism or the other varieties of atheism/agnosticism that you suggest. For one thing I think the question ‘what do you mean by god?’ is more provocative, and humanistic, than the statement ‘we are all ignorant of what is meant by god’. The first is a human level query: the second is a theological statement as unsound as any other theological statement.

    Also, the ‘…so we may as well…’ part of the characterisation of igtheism sounds a bit demanding; I kind of like the ignostic question because it makes sense to everyone, regardless of their actual belief system, and it works at a human level, unlike the more traditional ‘what is god?’ question. My understanding of ignosticism, which is probably wrong, is that an absolute definition of god is neither needed, nor practical; but a ‘local’ definition of what the participants mean by the word is necessary for a meaningful debate.

    On a related theme, I don’t really see the problem with neologisms, or having a lot of words to denote fairly similar ideas. If we’re thinking independently then surely it’s a natural thing to happen. In fact, I don’t see the problem with just making up a word to describe your beliefs at some particular time: without going through all the rigmarole of trying to decide which label to give yourself that day.

    I’ve probably strayed a bit from defending ignosticism here; in fact this defence may just have eaten itself by suggesting that coming up with a new, essentially meaningless word to describe my beliefs is a better idea.

    I’m interested in this phrase ‘local humanist’ though. Does this refer to the boundedness of humanist philosophy?

  2. Joe,

    I see your point about ignosticism – asking rather than telling in any sense. This sounds like the polar-opposite of preaching and preaching is something that gets up my, and many of my readers’ collective noses! So I like that idea.

    I’m interested in this phrase ‘local humanist’ though. Does this refer to the boundedness of humanist philosophy?

    Hehe, no I meant one who lives near me rather than an Internet acquaintance.

  3. I love this !!! Ever hear the conversation between Ellie & Palmer in the movie ‘ contact ‘ about Ochams Razor ?
    You would enjoy that . Also Osho would be a great one for you to read his works. Very right man on things.

  4. Thank you NiteSkyGirl. Yes I’ve seen Contact some time ago and remember many good discussions, but I must watch it again sometime. I’ll look up Osho too.

  5. I don’t really care if Igtheist sounds geeky or not . It seems atheist has been hijacked by zealots who seem to have elevated it to a religion itself I prefer IIgtheism and tend to distance myself from the nonsensical rhetoric. There are only demented and dimwitted screeds from both sides.

    My definition of Igtheism would be. How can I claim to know what is unknowable?. This best describes how I feel.


  6. theotherjoe,

    I think you exaggerate regarding atheism, but it’s true there’s a certain amount of backlash against religious culture amongst some and I can understand some people wishing to distance themselves from a label that they feel has been tarnished.

    However, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that a god is inherently “unknowable”. Surely if gods are all that believers say they are, then they could (and would?) make themselves known?

  7. Exaggerating? I have run across as many rabid atheists as I have holy rollers. Each claiming to be more “rational” and “informed” than the other. What I am telling you is that I am not an atheist, theist or polytheist. I don’t distance myself from any label as much as the concept itself.

    When my path crosses a zealot on either side of the issue, first thing I ask them is; define god, regardless of wether they are a believer or not. The varying answers I get are astounding. The person usually gets very defensive about their opinion being challenged.

    I view both sides as equal to each other. Both depend on blind faith to support their argument. To me that is the very definition of ignorance.

  8. theotherjoe,

    I am not an atheist, theist or polytheist. I don’t distance myself from any label as much as the concept itself.

    I think it’s possible, common even, to be more than one of those things.

    A theist is someone who believes in a god or gods, an atheist is someone who does not believe in a god or gods. In the strictest sense, all people fall into one or other of those categories. Either they do believe in a god, or they don’t.

    Some agnostics may say they “don’t know”, in which case they don’t believe and could be considered “agnostic atheists”. Others may say, “I think there’s a god, but I don’t know how many or what kind of god”, in which case we might call them “agnostic theists”.

    In a way the situation is the same for ignostics. If you have not even found a definition of god which makes sense, then either you don’t believe in god(s) or you believe in a very ill-defined god or gods.

    As I mentioned in the post, I consider myself an agnostic atheist or weak atheist.

    Both depend on blind faith to support their argument.

    I think this accusation only applies to strong atheists, who in practice are the minority of atheists.

    In the end however, this is all largely academic and you can call yourself whatever you like.

  9. In the end however, this is all largely academic and you can call yourself whatever you like.

    Thank you very much for allowing me.

    Could be that I am reading too much into it but you seem to have a dogmatic attachment to the atheist label. Additionally, you are assigning recognition to a metaphysical concept. One could just as well state that they don’t believe in fairies or space aliens. Just making the statement itself seems absurd. It is impossible to argue a rational point with an irrational attachment to a belief. This to me has always been the case when encountering provincialists. Not that I am accusing you of anything. It just seems to me that you are as heavily vested in not believing and it is still blind faith that supports those beliefs. This is not an indictment or accusation of what you believe (or don’t). I just don’t think that you understand what an Ignostic is.

    I think the next time the subject of god comes up I will just smile and go on my way.

    From my point of view I can honestly say that I don’t know and I don’t care to know as it has no bering on my existence. Assuming that I do, in fact, exist.