At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
The primary difference between an atheist and an agnostic is that the atheist does not believe God or gods exist whereas the agnostic is not sure either way because existence of God or gods, they say, cannot be proven. The atheist may be a weak atheist or strong atheist. The weak atheist may say, “I’m not sure whether gods exist so I don’t worship any. “ The strong atheist comments: “There is no God or gods.”
Some people use the terms of atheist or agnostic interchangeably. How much difference is there, really between a weak atheist and an agnostic? Actually there is some difference. The atheist, whether weak or strong, is not in search of spiritual meaning through finding proof of a god. The agnostic may, on the other hand, be looking for proof, or may be open to the proofs or faith people use to define god. The agnostic does not necessarily rule out that faith might come to him or her at some future point.
The atheist on the other hand, completely discounts the concept of being converted to a belief in god. Even if the atheist is weak, he or she does not choose ever to worship any sort of god. This does not mean that all atheists will stay atheists for life, but many do.
One of the principle arguments for atheism is that a God cannot possibly exist. How could an all powerful being allow for the evils occurring on earth, such as genocide? Why would an all powerful being ignore the many cries for help he or she hears from the faithful?
Most people who believe in God argue that praying does not mean one is guaranteed an answer to one’s prayers. Further, God’s ways are mysterious and above the understanding of humans, thus we cannot fully understand why God would adopt a laissez-faire policy in the world.
The agnostic might ask the same questions as the atheist, but might occasionally evaluate the mysterious ways in which a god or gods might move. The agnostic might also have a tentative belief in an intelligent presence, but believe religions get caught up in doctrine, and have failed to clearly define such a presence. A statement from an agnostic again might be “Sometimes I think there may be something out there, but I’m not sure what it is.”
Thus the main differences between an atheist and an agnostic relates to openness to the question as to whether God exists. The agnostic looks for proof, or a transforming experience of faith. The atheist, on the other hand, refuses to pay homage to any god, because he or she believes no god exists.