Am I an atheist or an agnostic? When I first left Christianity, this question wasn’t important. I called myself an agnostic then, as I considered the reality of God’s existence as something I could not know for sure. I adopted the ‘fence sitter’ definition of agnosticism: I viewed agnosticism as a halfway stop between atheism and theism; I could not make a commitment on whether God did or did not exist. To me, an atheist was someone who declared: “God does not exist”. I lacked the supposed certainty that an atheist needed to make such a claim, so I did not consider myself an atheist at all.
However, after much reading, this issue became a topic of much thought, mainly due to the discovery that the actual definitions of atheism and agnosticism are those not held by the general public. According to George H Smith, in his book, Atheism, The Case Against God, an atheist is not necessarily someone who actively denies the existence of God, but is also someone who passively lacks belief in God. I’ve come to adopt this broad definition atheism. After all, the word atheism simply means “without belief”.
Moreover, I now tend towards the idea that agnosticism and atheism are not different in degree, but are different in kind. Agnosticism has to do with knowledge; atheism concerns itself with belief. If someone asked me: "Do you believe in God", I would say "no", as I have not yet come across convincing evidence that a deity exists. Technically, this makes me an atheist with regards to belief. However, if someone asked me: "Do you know for certain that God does not exist?” I would answer: "I don't know for certain". I would have to know every nook and cranny of the universe to know for sure if God does (or does not) exist. So with regards to knowledge I'm an agnostic.
Ellie Arroway, the main character and agnostic scientist in Carl Sagan’s Contact, makes a distinction between being convinced that God doesn’t exist; and not being convinced that he does exist. I still fall into the latter camp. I don’t make the claim that God doesn’t exist. I only lack belief, in a passive way, and this makes me an atheist according to Smith’s definition. However, I’m also an agnostic in that I lack the knowledge to say for certain that God does or does not exist.
So what am I? Well, I’m an atheist, as well as an agnostic. A cocktail mix of the two.