Since unsubscribing from the belief in god, I’ve been accused of being both an atheist and an agnostic. If I tell people I don’t believe in god, they’ll ask how confident I am in my atheism. When I say I’m not confident, they say, “Well if you’re not sure, then surely you’re agnostic.” Only recently have I discovered why there’s confusion between the two terms.
There are two dimensions to every belief: the position and the confidence level. The beauty of science is that there is the method as well as the results. It’s about the journey as much as it is about the destination. The method of science requires starting with a position with a weak level of confidence. You must be willing to give up that belief as soon as there is significant evidence to the contrary. In fact, the whole point of the scientific to disprove your beliefs (the scientific method allows no path to affirm beliefs, only to heavily imply).
When I say I’m an atheist, I don’t mean that I have a positive belief that god doesn’t exist. I would have no way of proving that god doesn’t exist. Any confidence I had that god doesn’t exist would purely be whim and wish. What I mean by atheist is that I have no confidence in the belief of the existence of god. To someone else, the evidence they’ve been shown may have been persuasive, which makes them confident. To me, the evidence isn’t.
Back in the golden years of 350 BCE, Aristotle posited the belief in 5 elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and aether. As we discovered helium and hydrogen, we abandoned a belief in 5 elements. In the golden years of 1880s we still believed in aether, except now it existed in space which allowed light to travel through a medium. Then we conducted an experiment that wouldn’t necessarily have proven aether existed, but it would have heavily implied that it did. Unfortunately, it came back negative. The evidence for the existence of aether was missing, and so they don’t believe it any more.
So you could say I’m an aether atheist. I have no confidence in the existence of aether. It could exist, but I don’t have enough reasons to believe it does. That’s where I am in my belief in god.