This is part 2 of a fictional dialogue between two friends: a Christian and an atheist. Sam is a fictional character. As usual, comments and corrections are welcome!
Read part 1
Sam: This coffee is great, thank you!
Kevin: Well, it’s not as good as the stuff you get at Mug n’ Bean, but it gets me out of bed in the morning.
Sam: If I don’t have my cup when I wake up, I can get really grumpy.
Kevin: At least you and I have something in common: we both have faith in caffeine.
Sam: I will have another cup later on. Getting back to our discussion: you said earlier that you don’t believe in the existence of God, but you also said that you don’t claim that God doesn’t exist. Can you explain further?
Kevin: If it is okay with you, I will answer with a question. Do you believe in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster?
Sam: Well, no.
Sam: Sufficient evidence is lacking. All we have are a few eye witness accounts and a couple of fuzzy photos that are somewhat suspect in nature.
Kevin: So after some examination of the evidence you are not convinced?
Sam: Yea, kind of.
Kevin: But let me ask you this: do you know for certain that the monster does not exist?
Sam: No. I don’t know for certain that the Loch Ness Monster does not exist. Although I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster, I could be wrong in my belief. I’m not omniscient, and I don’t know every nook and cranny of the Loch Ness. It is probable that the Loch Ness Monster does exist, but it is hiding away quite effectively somewhere in the depths. I need more knowledge in order to justify belief.
Kevin: Exactly. The same applies to my belief in gods: if someone asks me if I believe in supernatural beings, I will reply no. In this sense I am an atheist, as I’m not convinced in the claim that a god or gods exist. However, if someone asks me if I know that gods do not exist, I will answer that I am not certain. I can’t say “there is no God” – I can only say this if I search the entire universe and find that there is no God. But this is impossible for me to do.
Sam: But aren’t you an agnostic if you not certain that God exists?
Kevin: Yes, I am an agnostic.
Sam: But you said that you are an atheist. How can you be an atheist and agnostic at the same time?
Kevin: I am an agnostic in terms of knowledge of a god or gods. I am an atheist in terms of belief in a god’s existence. There is a commonly held belief that agnosticism sits on the same scale between theism and atheism, that it differs in degree from these two extremes. However, others have argued that agnosticism sits apart from theism and atheism totally. It differs in kind. One can be both a theist and agnostic, or an atheist and an agnostic. I am an agnostic atheist. Ellie Arroway, the main character in Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, makes a distinction between being convinced that God doesn’t exist, and not being convinced that he does exist. At the moment, I fall into the second camp.