I have on more than one occasion come across the topic of being agnostic versus atheist. Many theists claim that you cannot be both agnostic and atheist. It seems to be hard for many theists to distinguish the difference between belief and knowledge. Below is one such conversation I have come across on twitter.
@janh2h @DeityFree Hi Jan…"theism" is what someone BELIEVES. "Gnosticism" is what someone "KNOWS" or claims to "know". There IS a diff.
— A Light in the Dark (@CagedTigersRMad) November 3, 2015
In this instance the theist understood, but more often particularly with creationists, they deny it is possible to be both atheist and agnostic.
— Noah Paul Le Gies (@NoahPaulLeGies) October 26, 2015
Many atheists and agnostics are having to correct peoples assumptions when it comes to their knowledge and belief.
— Tony Buck (@GrandelftheGrey) November 1, 2015
The word gnostic is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as follows.
Clearly it is referring to knowledge. The definition of agnostic again refers to knowledge of god.
Definition of agnostic in English:
A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.
So now we have cleared up how the words gnostic and agnostic refer to knowledge, lets explore belief.
The word theism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as follows.
Note that the definition refers to belief and does not refer to knowledge.
Following is the definition of atheism as defined by the Oxford Dictionary.
As you can see, the atheism definition refers to lack of belief. It does not refer to knowledge.
There are of course more belief systems but these are the ones we most commonly see. Deism would be one such example but I will not go into for the purposes of defining the differences between the main belief systems. (or lack of)
So as you can see, when you take into account the fact that the first two definitions refer to knowledge and the second two refer to belief or lack thereof, you can have beliefs (or lack of) independent of or in addition to knowledge. This is why you can be both an agnostic and agnostic and an atheist, or an agnostic and a theist. You can also be gnostic and an atheist, or gnostic and a theist. I have created a handy graphic to make it easier to explain. Feel free to use the graphic (please don’t alter) to help your conversations and debates on twitter, facebook or other social media. If you need it altered for any reason, please don’t hesitate to contact me.