Agnostic or atheist, what's in a name? It is amazing how many times this comes up for discussion and as many people say, they are certainly not mutually exclusive and sometimes can be almost synonymous. But, say what you like, the connotation that these two words create are oceans apart. Agnostic is a very light term to use in a conversation, it will often endear you to many listeners. It is the "honest" position. For the strong believer you become fertile ground for discipleship, you just don't know God..... yet. To the atheist you are an honest doubter and have taken the first step to non belief.In a way you are like the cup both half empty and half full.
Say that you are an atheist and the response is completely different. First you have to make sure no one is about to sip a cup of coffee,or you run the risk of creating a spill of BP proportions. If you are lucky you may get away with just a gasp followed by an uncomfortable silence, and sighs of relief as someone quickly changes the subject. For the believer, the atheist has closed his mind, not willing to accept any contrary information. To any other atheist there, it is also awkward because unless they have come out about it to this audience before they are just not ready to say, "me too."
Agnosticism is clearly the safe position in the religious debate but I think it ultimately keeps the protection around faith. It pulls at things around the edges rather than targeting the core. Doubt after all is not normally seen as a bad thing by religious people. After all, many will tell you they have gone that way before. It is ok to be unsure, you can question as much as you like so long as you never actually stop believing. God can help with unbelief, non belief is a totally different story. When I was an agnostic, Christians treated me like an athlete with a broken foot. A poor soul tormented by confusion, that needed assistance to understand. At least I entertained the possibility of a God and that meant what the bible said at least COULD be true. There might be a heaven or hell and I needed to keep a half an ear on what they were saying even if only in a Pascal's Wager sort of way. The most you can do as an agnostic is make the ultra-religious slow down for a minute, but you are sure as hell not going to stop their train from moving.
For many years I thought agnostic was the better position. I honestly didn't know. The thing that hits me now is that of course, nobody knows. Therefore, in reality, everybody is an agnostic. So to call yourself an agnostic is about as descriptive a term as calling yourself a human being. It really gives no useful information. What is important is what you believe. You either believe there is a God or you don't, unless of course you think the probability is exactly 50/50. But I would risk to say most people know that their God meter either tips in one direction or the other even if the perturbation is slight.
For me the belief is firmly in "no God" territory even though it is by no means at the extreme. So in a somewhat paradoxical way, I would gladly call myself an agnostic atheist but would consider it a misnomer to be labelled agnostic.I also believe that in order to get the world to become more rational in outlook it is important to emphasize atheism rather than agnosticism. There is a view in the world that agnosticism is the most rational point of view, that needs to change.
The respect for agnosticism as the superior intellectual position comes from the view of science as being an open minded discipline. Many think that scientists that make dogmatic assertions on God's non existence are not being true to the field, acting ultra vires, treading on ground they should not be. However, I think that there is an aspect of science that is often overlooked. Science is not only about seeking the "one truth" it is just as much about weeding out the ideas that don't have merit. It considers all positions but is duty bound to immediately eject from the table anything that is unsupported by the evidence, regardless of the proposer. Science from that perspective is like God, it is no respecter of persons. Science must rank, categorise and separate otherwise it is not doing its job. All ideas are not equal.
We live in a world of limited resources; time devoted to ideas that have long since been recognised as having no merit will hold back overall development. The journey towards the truth depends on an efficient process of eliminating the false.The God hypothesis has unfortunately failed the tests and science has simply moved on. It is a cop out to say that science makes no comment on the supernatural, when it clearly shouts, NO!! Every experiment in the natural or social sciences could have this sentence written in the assumption section:
" We have assumed that no gods, demons, spirits or angels have affected the outcome of this experiment."
So far no results obtained have caused researches to question whether these assumptions are valid. If results do in the future, scientists will go back and question them, but it will take a massive weight of conflicting evidence to counteract an assumption which has been consistent with observations for millennia and that's only fair.
So lack of God's influence is assumed but with good reason, that is why supernatural evidence is not admissible in the law courts. It is why forensic scientists rather than demonologists are called as expert witnesses in murder trials. Atheism is indeed the position of reason and should be promoted as such. You don't remove a child's night phobia by telling him that there is probably no monster living under the bed. You take him in the light of day and let him see for himself there is nothing there but his toys, shoes and colouring books.