Article > The three who didn't pray
Description :: Four guys come out of a bar ...
Atheists believe there is no deity. Agnostics believe they have no idea whether or not there is, in fact, a deity. Theists believe there is at least one deity. All of them, however, rely on at least a minimalist definition of deity, most often dealing with omnipotence, omniscience, and/or world-creation. Theists will here be considered to be minimalist-theists: believers only in the existence of a deity, and no more.

Atheists and agnostics are often asked how they can possibly miss the obvious existence of deities. Life, the universe, the finely tuned physics of our world: everything points to a creator. Agnostics and theists are asked how they can ignore the obvious lack of deities. Without evidence of a tooth-fairy, why go on believe there may at least be one, somewhere? In the same way, atheists do not feel the need to disprove the existence of a deity, but only to pronounce that they have seen no evidence thereof, and that the default position is atheism. Agnostics may be seen as intellectuals, or more often, as pseudo-intellectuals, trying to stay out of the fray. In return, agnostics may see both atheists and theists as overly sure of themselves, when the existence of a lively debate only goes to show that none of this is obvious.

Given the varying stances on the issue, it seems counter-intuitive that a single person could waver so easily between the three positions, without any outward change. Neither a theist nor an agnostic would subscribe to any particular religious faith: a deity, if it were to exist, would not have any known properties. Without knowing the properties of a deity, it is quite difficult to engage in worship, prayer, or ministry of any relevancy. An agnostic wouldn't bother, as the existence of a deity is itself in doubt. An atheist, obviously, wouldn't go so far as to even consider the idea. How, therefore, would you tell the difference between the three?

You wouldn't: externally identifiable attributes of religion are attached to externally identifiable attributes of a deity: history, personality, laws; the actual (non-)existence of the deity is not itself cause for religion. Without any known properties, the belief in a deity has the same implications as the belief that there is, in fact, a four-year-old named Stefan living somewhere on another continent: none.

The evangelical opportunities offered by the three belief systems are also identical: no amount of prosletyzing makes any sense. For a theist, belief in a deity brings nothing with it. For an atheist, disbelief in a deity subtracts nothing. For an agnostic, preaching would imply a claim of knowledge, which contradicts the core philosophy of agnosticism.

If you were hoping for a full-blown joke on this concept, I'm sorry, I'm not an entertainer (at least not by profession.) If you can think of one, feel free to send it to me. It might not get posted, but at least it'll give me something to laugh at.