Editor's Note: Spokane Faith & Values has a new feature called “Ask An Atheist” where readers are invited to submit question to our atheist writers. Here's the sixth question that came in, and a response from one of our atheist writers.
Q. Why atheist and not agnostic?
A. I often describe myself as a “devout agnostic but a functional atheist.” By which I mean that I do not rule out in principle that god(s) might exist (though many a dogmatic atheist does exactly that), though since if asked do I believe in any particular god, as I don't, that makes me a functional atheist. I like the agnostic term (coined in the 19th century by Darwin's bulldog, Thomas Huxley, to describe his own religious position) because it has its etymology in knowledge (gnosis) rather than the atheist term that back-handedly rests etymologically on the very thing it doesn't buy into, the teos/theos of a-theism.
So my employment of the terms is more a matter of esthetics than philosophical imperative. As a practical atheist, though, I am happy to own up to the atheism word if only to help defuse its historical connotations as something too terrible to be mentioned in polite company, like prostitution or telemarketing.
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