Continuing on with definitions:
agnostic: As George Smith in “Atheism: The Case Against God” writes, the definition of this word can also be obtained from breaking it up into two pieces: “a-gnostic”, and thus means without knowledge. It was coined by Thomas Huxley in 1869 and he was using it in reference to theism, so in that application it means someone who doesn’t know if gods exists. The differences between this and implicit atheism are actually quite subtle and I don’t think it’s too useful to go into too much detail, but one thing to keep in mind is that strict agnosticism with regards to theism claims that it is impossible to know anything about deities. Implicit atheism does not make this claim at all. Wikipedia labels this type of agnosticism as strong agnosticism (aka hard, closed, strict or permanent agnosticism). Weak agnosticism (aka soft, open, empirical or temporal agnosticism) would then describe the view that the existence of gods is currently unknown but is not necessarily unknowable. I fall into the weak agnostic category by these definitions. And by currently unknown I am making a statement about my own knowledge and not a broad statement about what all of humanity knows (wasn’t quite sure if Wikipedia made that distinction).
Smith didn’t say it in exact words, but if you read his section on agnosticism (especially page 12) he is basically saying that the colloquial usage of this word has come to mean “implicit atheism”. I agree with this assessment and that is one of the biggest reasons I most frequently use the term agnostic instead of atheist to describe myself.
possibilian: This is a very new word invented by David Eagleman, but already has a Wikipedia entry and a web page. I first found this word on the Finding Truth blog and I liked it right away. I really liked Eagleman’s 20 minute video on his website. Here is his definition: “Possibilianism is a philosophy which rejects both the idiosyncratic claims of traditional theism and the positions of certainty in atheism in favor of a middle, exploratory ground”. (as an aside, he is using the colloquial use of the word “atheism” here because he describes it as a position of certainty) The main thing that hits me out of this is not the “rejection of stuff” part but the exploratory part. While I do believe some aspects of the big questions in life are not capable of being found by scientific methods and critical inquiry I definitely do not believe it is true for all aspects of our big questions. I am a huge fan of exploring these questions with the best objective methods that humans have found, and I hope that scientists give this more thought (though I realize the difficulties). While atheism and agnosticism don’t necessarily rule out exploration, their definitions do not explicitly promote exploration, while possibilianism does, and this is why I am a big fan of this label.
Just a few more words about why I do not prefer the word atheist (beyond what I mentioned before). While I know that the more vocal atheists of our time (seem to be called New Atheists) do not express certainty about the non-existence of gods, they do express that their beliefs are essentially close enough to certainty. Not only do they express this about deities they express this about any supernatural or “spiritual” entities as well. Most of them seem to be naturalists. While I may lean a little bit in their direction I do not express anywhere near the level of certainty about naturalism they seem to express in their writings, and it is yet another reason I tend to stay clear of using the word atheist. While I most definitely share their approach of using the objective methods of reasoning and science to find truth, that is very different than the philosophical statement of naturalism.
While the last word is not a label it is so important for me to define it here because I have and will continue to use it a lot:
epistemology: The study of human knowledge and understanding. If you have ever thought “how can I or we really know anything at all” then you have thought about epistemology. I tried to lay down a framework for my own very foundational beliefs about how to come to truth about stuff (i.e. epistemology) in my first 4 blog posts and now I plan to go back to that. I plan on applying these methods later on (keep in mind no method is perfect), but I really feel it important to build a strong foundation first and I’m not sure how long that will take.