September 14th, 2013
08:01 AM ET

Hey atheists, let’s make a deal

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - Famed atheist Richard Dawkins has been rightfully criticized this week for saying the “mild pedophilia” he and other English children experienced in the 1950s “didn’t cause any lasting harm.”

This comes after an August tweet in which Dawkins declared that “all the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

Dawkins is known for pushing his provocative rhetorical style too far, providing ample ammunition for his critics, and already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism.

As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.

So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?

Now I’m not saying we just let these destructive words and actions go—not at all. It’s important for both believers and atheists to decry irresponsible views and hateful rhetoric, especially from within our own communities.

(Believe me. There are plenty of Christians who raise hell every time Robertson says something homophobic or a celebrity pastor somewhere says something misogynistic.)

READ MORE: Why millennials are leaving the church

But what if we resist the urge to use the latest celebrity gaffe as an excuse to paint one another with broad brushes?

What if, instead of engaging the ideas of the most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists, we engaged the ideas of the most reasonable, the most charitable, the most respectful and respected?

Only then can we avoid these shallow ad hominem attacks and instead engage in substantive debates that bring our true differences and our true commonalities to light.

It’s harder to go this route, and it takes more work and patience, but I’m convinced that both Christians and atheists are interested in the truth and in searching for it with integrity, without taking the easy way out.

Pope Francis took a step in that direction this week with a letter in a Rome newspaper responding directly to questions posed by its atheist director and inviting respectful open dialog between nonbelievers and Christians.

READ MORE: Why millennials need the church

So, yes, Richard Dawkins is an atheist. But so are authors Greg Epstein and Susan Jacoby. So is my friend and fellow blogger Hemant Mehta. So is Sir Ian McKellen. So is ethicist Peter Singer, who may or may not be the best example.

And yes, Pat Robertson is a Christian. But so is Nelson Mandela. So is acclaimed geneticist Francis Collins. So is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. So is Barack Obama. So is Stephen Colbert.

And I'm willing to bet that the same collective groan emitted by millions of Christians each time Pat Robertson says something embarrassing on TV sounds a lot like the collective groan emitted by millions of atheists when Richard Dawkins rants on Twitter.

Still, in the end, it’s not about who has the most charismatic or generous personalities in their roster, nor about who has the most “crazies.” It’s about the truth.

So let’s talk about the truth, and with the people who most consistently and graciously point us toward it.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" and "Evolving in Monkey Town." Evans blogs at rachelheldevans.com, and the views expressed in this column belong to her.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Faith

soundoff (5,916 Responses)
  1. Bill

    I consider myself simply as a rational person. I don't need to tell anyone to what beliefs my rationality leads me. I don't care to know anyone else's beliefs. I am offended by anyone who asserts superiority of themselves or their beliefs, or who feels compelled to belittle me or to persuade me that I should adopt their beliefs. Rodney King said, "Can't we all just get along?" I agree, and so I would ask, "Can't we all just shut up?"

    September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Daniel C

      But there is a way to have discussions with humble people wherein you are both learning about each other and broadening and honing your own thinking. For me, the immense value that comes from finding another person to do that with that is worth the pain of dealing with getting burned and offended by the arrogant. And I would bet that you aren't learning and improving much as a person unless you are engaging with other people! "To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person. –Bruce Lee"

      September 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • rdeleys

      Probably the smartest thing anyone has said in a long time!

      September 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      in a perfect world, you'd be right.

      ...but what happens when someone believes all of your possessions are theirs ?

      the idea isn't to not judge, the idea is to be a good judge : )

      September 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  2. McMahon

    Why would we make that deal when Dawkins is right? "If you can't say something nice, back your points with facts and solid logic."

    September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Daniel C

      Because Dawkins has an unfortunate tendency to undercut his own agenda by bitterly resorting to ad hominem arguments. I understand why he does it, but for someone who professes to be so rational it is emotionally driven irrational behavior that's not going to get anybody anywhere.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
      • donna

        Whatever he's doing has tgotten him pretty far actually.

        But, I'm curious to know what all these ad hominem arguments are. Sure, he attacks people for their religious beliefs, but that's because that's the subject he is dealing with- so that's not ad hominem at all.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  3. Mario

    How is this even a story? Pat Robertson is a certified psychopath. Dawkins is infinitely more logical, and i'm not ashamed of what he said. In fact, when christians try to "throw anything" into the faces of atheists, atheists just laugh. The only people truly ever insulted and angered are those with the ridiculous beliefs. Science requires no belief, as it is evidence based. Keep chirping Xtians, you'll just continue looking insane...

    September 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  4. kati

    In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. "HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

    September 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • kati

      Bible Clown©
      "Yo bozo, what example did Jesus set?" How about let he among you who is without sin throw the first stone? Meditate on that parable for a time, grasshopper, and see if you notice anything.

      what else?

      September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • kati

      Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • G to the T

        And ask yourself kait – "how do I know who wrote those words and/or if they were accurate to what actually happened?"

        September 17, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  5. Sodominian Mob WINS!! Sodo's WIN!!

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    September 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Observer

      Millions of heteros engage in sodomy. Are you saying the Christians won?

      September 14, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  6. Mimi Randall

    No, let's not make a deal, nor even say we will think about it. NO, we're not going to let bygones be bygones. The true believers in Jesus Christ know it is our Christian duty to spread the word, we are the messengers of Jesus. If Hell is a tenth of what The Holy Bible says it is, we don't want anyone to enter Hell for eternity. All the while we know too, that God knocks on everyones door in many ways throughout our lives. Free will is what determines where we will spend eternity. When the world comes to an end, and it will, few of the billions of souls ever born will enter Heaven....by their own hand....free will. The Holy Bible also says, not all are chosen....to believe. Athiests often say, prove to me that God is real and I will believe. PROVE it! That is not the job of the Christian......to prove anything. Proof would negate....faith. Faith is the essence of believing in things unseen. Some Athiests say: I am a good person, if there is a Heaven, a Hell, God, Satan, I will surely go to Heaven....if there is such a thing. NO....there are no good people, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If God knows prior to our birth which direction we will choose, then why does He even have us go through this thing called....life? It is to prove to "ourselves" wherever we end up, that it was "our" choice...."our" free will. This choice tho, is the biggest choice we will ever make, nothing will suprass this choice, nothing even close. For those of us who have chosen to.....believe......we know God is real. He shows himself to those who choose Him, in countless ways. No, not in the flesh, no, He does not sit down with us in our living room and discuss our questions and offer answers like our logic would hope for. He surpasses this in glorious ways and means. By; answered prayer. By; assurance that one day this will all be over and we will find eternal peace. By: dreams and visions. By; miracles....yes, He still performs miracles in our lives. Athiests like to say: If God is real, why does He allow the horrors we read about in our daily news? God allows this because this is Satan's domain....at the moment. Evil is all around us. Christians are tempted much more than non-believers. Satan knows who are "his." Satans work is on we, the Christians. NO, we don't believe in this Fairytale in the sky. We believe in what we know in our hearts and souls, because God has shown Himself to us, His believers, His messengers. If God were to "show" Himself, all would believe. NO, He doesn't want all of You, just those He has chosen. Even Satan and his demons .....believe.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Observer

      "Proof would negate....faith."

      Exactly. And that's why believers are often justifiably laughed at.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
      • Robert

        Bzzzt wrong again; your faith is not what creates the laughter it is the religious desire to make their faith public policy is what is morbidly entertaining. Try again..

        September 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Commenter

      Mimi Randall,

      Did "Satan" take away your paragraphing skill? Ugh. It seems as if he made you a bit dotty too.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Atheist

      Hum...it's funny that you mention Jesus, the son of God, son of Mary who was married at the time to another man. Hum... I believe there is a word that "adultery"

      September 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Atheist

      God created only 1 man and 1 woman and they populated the earth. Then why is incest illegal?

      September 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Bible Student

      "Proof would negate....faith."

      Hebrews 11:1 – "Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld"

      Faith is "the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld." We haven't seen the sun rise tomorrow, but we have faith that it will. We have that faith, because we have seen the "evident demonstration of realities" in the sun coming up every day. So with out having some type of proof, your faith is a blind faith.

      The Bible and history can give us a real faith, but without putting forth some effort to build real faith and knowledge, then you don't have anything. John 17:3 says that "This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ." So we need to take in knowledge, not just have a blind faith, or say we believe in God and Jesus. Because, as you said, even Satan and the demons believe.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • G to the T

        You are confusing "faith" with "belief" in my opinion. Faith is belief without supporting evidence. I don't need faith that the sun will rise tomorrow because it has every other day in my life and the lives of everyone I've ever known. I also know about gravity, physics, etc. which let's me know WHY the sun will rise tomorrow. So no – faith is not involved.

        September 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm |

      Godless Vagabond
      And the really sad thing is, Mimi. you probably actually believe all that, don't you?

      September 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  7. mrhackman

    I wrote a post about this... I don't think it is a fair exchange...

    September 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  8. Steel On Target

    I'm sorry, take me back to the beginning again. Exactly what did Sir Richard Dawkins say that I wouldn't support or agree with? No deal I guess.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  9. Dwest

    Did we all forget the fact that there is zero evidence for a god?

    September 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Skip

      There is all kinds of evidence that points to God. The fact that so many hostile anti-religious people choose to come here and talk about a god that doesn't exist is evidence to me.
      And just because you don't see or accept the evidence, doesn't make it untrue.
      God is real.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
      • Observer


        You lost the argument. Like all other believers, you supplied ZERO proof. Anyone can say they have irrefutable proof and offer NOTHING like you did.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
        • Skip

          No. You lost.

          You lost all this time you have spent arguing about a god you insist doesn't exist. Time wasted. Energy wasted. I'm sure you imagine you are doing something good. But really, you keep coming back and talking about this god.

          A god that would let us prove its existence is not God. That is an idol.

          You are searching for an idol. Not God. That is why you are lost.

          September 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
        • Robert

          My penguins that live underground and influence the weather does not demand proof; since you reject them you are searching for an idol not a god. Does this help you see how ridiculous your assertion is?

          September 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
        • Commenter

          "You lost all this time you have spent arguing about a god you insist doesn't exist."

          Atheists do not believe that your god exists. Believers, however, *do* exist - and have many fantasies and superst'itions. They are the ones we are addressing.

          September 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
        • Skip


          No. I'm addressing this particular poster. I'm not trying to generalize about believers and atheists like you are.

          This "Observer" is lost. And has wasted his life on this board.

          September 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
        • Cedar rapids

          'The fact that so many hostile anti-religious people choose to come here and talk about a god that doesn't exist is evidence to me.'

          See, its bizarre logic that explains why some people believe.
          So let me explain it once again......although god does not exist, the followers of various deities most certainly do, and its those that we respond to.

          'A god that would let us prove its existence is not God. That is an idol.'

          No it would still be a god, that wouldnt change. It would just have proof of its existence

          September 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
      • Dwest

        Patently ridiculous. Keep fooling yourself. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. There is ZERO proof.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
        • Skip

          So says "Dwest" on the CNN Faith and Belief blog in the comment section of an opinion piece written by a Christian writer.

          God is real and available to us all! Amen! Amen! Amen!

          September 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • Robert

        So to use your logic if there was a religious post and no atheists appeared to comment on it then god does not exist? Very odd logic but we have come to expect that from the religiots. The fact that you don't accept Zues does not make him untrue either correct?

        September 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  10. Jdubba

    So let me get this straight Rachel....you want athiests to ignore the more extreme religious folks so that you don't feel so bad about the lunacy of your own religion? That is pure nonsense and you know it. Your article, in and of itself, is completely ridiculous. Yes, younger folks and even the 30-60 crowd, are moving awat from religion because it is mostly a bunch of made up drivel designed to scare people and to concentrate power into the hands of the few. It is the most evil of indoctrinating ploys used by the church and political groups to control people. All you need to do is ask one simple question about the existence of god and if you're a logical person, you'll then know that it's all make believe. The Question: From infancy, if you were never taught religion or the concept of god, would you know anything about this supposed all powerful and ever-present invisible being? The answer is no and that's why there are so many different religions and gods. Each society or part of the world made up a set of fear based rules to create a power heirarchy, masking much if it in a set of etihics/rules, to keep control of others. Animals don't know about god, dolphins and whales don't go to church (and they're apparently as intelligent as we are), and if you don't brainwash a person into believing in religion, they'll never be caught up in it's brand of crazy. C'mon, if you choose to sign up and throw your personal faith into a religious group, you have to take the crazies with the moderates and if that makes your religion look deviant, crazy, or dangerous, as many of them have become, then you have to take your lumps along with it. Remember, you chose that team and there is no I in team.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  11. Abraham

    I have an even better proposal: how about you stop trying to legislate bigotry in the name of your religion, and we'll stop being up in arms about it?

    September 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • TheLightbringer


      September 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      As if there's nothing you'd want to legislate against right?

      September 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  12. Atheist

    If you could reason, then compromise, and then try to renegotiate with science, then you are well on your way in becoming a full fledged atheist. Because to be a true believer you need blind faith 24/7, but atheism only require a "hum...that's funny" moment.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Bible Student

      To be a believer doesn't require "blind faith." To be a true believer you need real faith, that is backed by evidence. To have blind faith is just ridiculous, which I do agree with you that a lot of people do have. The Bible itself spoke of scientific thingscenturies before humans understood them. It's not a scientific book, but when it does speak on science it is 100% accurate.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
      • Atheist

        Marco! (waiting for reply...)
        Galileo? Where did you go?

        September 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • Robert

        Please quote those passages of your holy book that were a hundred percent correct. When you are done I will list the things that are stated in the bible that are one hundred incorrect.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
        • Bible Student

          Job 26:7 – "He is stretching out the north over the empty place, Hanging the earth upon nothing." This was centuries before humans knew that the earth isn't sitting on the back of an elephant, on a turtle, etc.

          Isaiah 40:22 – "There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers in which are as grasshoppers, the One who is stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze, who spreads them out like a tent in which to dwell." Just the past few hundred years that man finally realized the earth wasn't flat.

          Just 2 for you.

          September 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
        • Robert

          Using the myth to prove the myth is no good. Try again....

          September 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
        • Bible Student

          What? You ask for me to quote "passages of your holy book that were a hundred percent correct." I did. And you said: " When you are done I will list the things that are stated in the bible that are one hundred incorrect."

          So come on, show me what things are incorrect?

          September 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
        • Robert

          I must have missed the one but since you asked: Lev 11:20-21: “All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.” Fowls do not walk on all four. Lev 11:6: “And the hare, because he cheweth the cud…” the hare does not chew its cud. Matt 13:31-32: ” “the kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed which…is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown is the greatest among herbs and becometh a tree.” mustard does not become a tree. Leviticus 11:13-19 calls the bat a bird. Only the book of Matthew discusses the slaughter of babies when Jesus was born. Historians who were there during that time make no such reference. Why would only Matthew talk about such a large scale baby slaughter? Mark 5:1-13 has a story of pigs being run off of a cliff into the sea and Gadera is actually several kilometers away from the sea. There is no cliff in that city. On and on...

          September 14, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          @Bible Student
          A circle is not an orb.
          The Hebrew word used in the original text is "Chug", which means a flat circle, like a coin.
          The word for orb/ball is "Dur".
          The bible posits a flat Earth.

          September 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
        • Bible Student

          Lev 11:20-21 – Literal translation from Hebrew reads: "winged swarming things" which there are 4 legged winged swarming things, such as insects.

          Lev. 11:6 – the rabbit's cud chewing was observed in the 18th Century by William Cowper. And it was also discussed in "Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London" Vol. 110, Series A, pp. 159-163.

          Matt 13:31-32 – The black mustard seed was the smallest unit of measure then. But when grown it would reach 10-15 feet high, and have many strong branches. So it can be referred to as tree like. Some areas of the world to this day still refer to them as trees.

          Leviticus 11:19 – The ancient world had different classifications than we do today.

          Matthew – This account matches how Herod was. There are many events in history that all the details are not known about.

          Mark 5 – The original manuscripts refer to the "Country of the Gergesenes". Some of the cities of that "country" did in fact have cliffs and were areas that farmers would have there cattle graze.

          Sounds like you are splitting hairs over a word here or there, instead of doing real research on the subjects that you take conflict with.

          September 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
        • Bible Student

          @ Doc Vestibule

          True. That Hebrew word chugh, also can be rendered Sphere.

          September 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Scientist

      Science does not lead everyone to atheism.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
      • Atheist

        There are covalent bondings and there are a dispersion forces. Eventually, particles drift so far, that we call them different particles.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  13. rickie

    like the article, the comments from people saying they have proof theres no god is laughable you have charts graphs books doesnt really show me much id rather believe in something than nothing at all im a christian and proud of it. i respect peoples beliefs no matter what they are nde are a prime example of a afterlife and ill just say god still loves you even if you dont believe in him

    September 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Could you please direct me to where I might find a person who said that they have proof there is not any gods? thanks.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • Atheist

        Hum, the burden of proof lays with the believers not the other way around. Just like you can't ask people to prove something doesn't exist.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • Atheist

        Cpt. please prove to me that santa claus doesn't exist.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Sure. Tell me how someone proves the nonexistence of a thing, and I'll give it a shot.

          Or should I ask you to prove that my invisible and undetectable pet dragon the size of Jupiter doesn't exist?

          Either way. We'll go from there.

          September 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • Atheist

        Cpt, I think you just answer your own question. Now why do you believe there is a God?

        September 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
      • Robert

        The proof that there is no god is all around us. If your standard of proof is that what is claimed must be disproven. OK; then you must accept my premise that pink penguins live underground and impact the weather and the only way to appease them is with gifts of fish that must be left in your yard for them to consume.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  14. Nursehope

    Counter Offer: Atheists will step back when "believers seeking the truth" stop trying to insinuate their beliefs into the lives of everyone not of their like mindset. I am specifically referring to (in the US) Xtians demanding that creationism be taught in public schools, LGBT persons should be discriminated against, women should not be able to choose what they do with their bodies, etc. We know Robertson, Ray Comfort, Joyce Meyers, Fred Phelps, Rick Santorum and others like them are not your representatives but unfortunately there is a political party ka The Tea Party Republicans who have become spokespeople for the truly ugly side of theology. If your groups could find a way to keep your beliefs and faith in the privacy of your homes and places of worship, I believe we would have a deal.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Atheist

      When "believers seeking the truth" like a radical Muslim. Yes, I believe many atheists would step back, walk away and let those "believers" commit suicide by themselves in a secluded area.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Jake

    Wow, what a lunatic. Did she actually just compare Richard Dawkins to Pat Robertson? You may not like Richard Dawkins because he can be brash and doesn't bother to sugar-coat his message for the sake of protecting the feelings of religious people (and why should he?), but he's generally right. Pat Robertson is insane. See the difference?

    September 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  16. urmomlol

    Oh look, a story about atheism. This is sure to stimulate much productive and civil debate on teh internets!

    September 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  17. Arbitrary Atheist

    Wait! So you suddenly think you should be judgmental? -_-

    September 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  18. Jim

    What the heck is this woman talking about? Sorry lady, Atheists are in now way "ashamed" of what Dawkins says. It just goes to show what a tilted reality this woman is if she equates Dawkins to Pat Robertson; she has convinced herself that Dawkins represents some extremity when in fact he doesn't. The Atheist message is clear; religions are a bunch of made up nonsense, and that doesn't change no matter which atheist you talk to. The only thing that changes is from one Atheist to another is their willingness to confront the religious fanatics and apologetics alike.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      She should be about her business of attending to her husband.

      Isa 3:12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.

      children=gang bangers and the pro partyin' politicians

      September 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • G to the T

        The 50's must have been a great decade for you lol...

        September 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Kelly

      That swoosh you hear is the point of this story going over your head. Greeeeeat reading comprehension.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  19. Jeffrey Guterman

    Why is a deal necessary when I don't throw things in people's faces in the first place? Anyway, I am agnostic, not an atheist.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Robert

      Either way you are marginalized by the religious.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I think most agnostics are also nonbelievers; although, I have had conversations with agnostic believers, too. I don't claim to have knowledge of spiritual matters, so I am an agnostic like you; but I also do not believe in any gods, so the atheist label applies, too.

      As an agnostic, you don't claim to definitively know about spiritual maters, but are you an atheist or a theist?

      September 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • donna

      Agnostic doesn't address the same category as atheist or deist. Meaning, you can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic deist, but agnostic isn't a third option to the belief about whether a god exists. Agnostic just means that you know it can't be proven, doesn't refer to belief about existence.

      I am an agnostic atheist. I know we cannot prove it either way (agnostic) and I lack a belief in a god (atheist).

      September 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Jeremiah Jones

        You are right, Agnostics hold you can neither prove nor disprove God. But then again some Christians believe the same, as well as Atheists. The difference is with lack of PROVE, Christians believe in God based on what they consider to be the evidence. Atheists don't believe in God for what they consider to be no proof/evidence. Agnostics inherently are undecided about the proposed evidence with lack of proof. You may call yourself Atheist/Agnostic but then you have misapplied the Agnostic label to yourself. Agnosticism is the choice to not decided ones belief in God or not.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
        • donna

          Sorry Jeremiah, but you don't get to redefine agnosticism. It means you know it can't be proven- that's it. It was a created word used specifically to refer to not being able to know mystical knowledge.

          Yes, people can be "undecided" but that's not what the word actually means. If you think people aren't also agnostic atheists or agnostic deists, then you might want to do a few seconds of research...

          And I challenge you to find an example of an educated, prominent atheist such as Dawkins claiming there is proof god doesn't exist. You use "proof/evidence" as if they are interchangeable- not a bit- you are missing a big piece of this if you think they mean the same thing.

          September 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
        • Jeremiah Jones

          Donna, you have truncated the definition of agnostic. Simply being not being able to prove that God exists is the foundation for the agnostics choice to neither believe nor disbelieve in God. I don't have to "re-define" the word. If you would check any common dictionary you would find the following definitions.

          (Merriam-Webster) 1. A person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god. 2. A person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something.
          (The Free Dictionary by Farlex) 1. a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism. 2. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something
          (Oxford Dictionaries) 1. A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

          atheism.about.com would agree with your definition... I find it funny though, it is listed under "atheism.about.com" and not "agnostic.about.com" so if you want to go with the definition that "Atheists" would give then fine. I could quote more, but simply because you've seen other "educated", "prominent", atheists use the word improperly does not change the definition. Maybe the meaning has been corroded and redefined... by people that use it "not intentionally" wrong, like yourself.

          I carefully chose my words of "evidence" and "proof", because they are not synonymous. But they are subjective to the views and different perspectives of different people. Most Christians I know don't claim to be able to "Prove" God exists, just that they believe on faith by what they consider to be the evidence. Just like in court evidence is weighed and judged differently by different people. You don't have to agree with the conclusion of others or even on the evidence provided. What is Proof? The preponderance of evidence... mostly. They are close but not synonymous, but both judged by the observer.

          September 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
        • Jeremiah Jones

          The true Agnostic perspective...

          "I can't know there is a God."
          "I can't know there is not a God"

          September 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
        • donna

          Jeremiah, we are using compatible definitions. Tell me how those are fundamentally different? "Knowing" in Huxley's world meant knowing for certain with proof, not believing. Knowledge is certainty. My definition came from a summary of Huxley who invented the word. He intended it to be a method of thinking not a creed/belief. Regardless of the multiple definitions that have evolved, it is still true that agnosticism is not exclusive of belief/non belief.

          And your dismissal of your use of proof and evidence is insufficient to address my point.

          I said, "It was a created word used specifically to refer to not being able to know mystical knowledge."

          You said:
          The true Agnostic perspective...

          "I can't know there is a God."
          "I can't know there is not a God"

          September 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
      • Jeremiah Jones

        In an article published by the (Agnostic Annual – 1884), Thomas Huxley stated,

        "Some twenty years ago, or thereabouts, I invented the word "Agnostic" to denote people who, like myself, confess themselves to be hopelessly ignorant concerning a variety of matters, about which metaphysicians and theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, dogmatise with the utmost confidence...

        1. Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.

        2. Consequently Agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology. On the whole, the "bosh" of heterodoxy is more offensive to me than that of orthodoxy, because heterodoxy professes to be guided by reason and science, and orthodoxy does not."

        When describing Agnosticism, Thomas Huxley's states a man shall not profess to "know or believe" in God without scientific reasoning and it is even more offensive to profess to "know or believe" there is no God (anti-theology) claiming to be based in science and reason. The Arguments of the Theists and Atheists in this comment section are perfect examples. Agnosticism is inclusive of "knowing and believing".

        So be Atheist, or Agnostic, but don't claim to be both. Claiming to be both simply errs from Thomas Huxley's definition.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
        • donna

          I'm so sad, I just typed a long reply and it vanished. So forgive me if this is choppy;

          HUxley's Agnosticism was created to oppose people, as I already said, believers and non believers alike, who believed they knew they were right with certainty. He defines atheism as a belief that they know there is no good as a truth (fact), that it is a certainty.

          That is not the definition of atheism that is most common today. Dawkins, for example, says that there is a small possibility that god exists. He does not claim to know for a fact that god does not exist.

          Huxley makes it clear that he is opposing the notion of claiming to know the answer as true- for certain- that is the key for him. He opposes Agnosticism to the Gnostics who claim to know truths, something he opposes.

          So his definition of atheist is not Dawkins' definition, or most of ours. By Huxley's standards, he might not consider Dawkins an atheist.

          Agnosticism is in a way a skepticism. It is meant to challenge people who claim to know for certain things that can't be known for certain. So it's associated with science in that way. As Dawkins is a great scientist, it is no wonder that he does not claim to know there is no god for a fact. He just really really believes it based on the evidence.

          So Dawkins' view doesn't oppose Huxley's Agnosticism. And Huxley's atheism is not our atheism.

          September 15, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  20. nik

    I was in the 6th grade when school prayer was discontinued. This had little or no consequences for myself as I continued to pray silently. I still pray alone. Why are 'Christians' so incessant in establishing group-laws that stipulate specific times for mass-prayer? Why are the prayers invariably 'Christian' in nature? Authoritarianism in religion is invarably man-made and has many guises. None of them worthwhile.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.