The Theist-Athiest Spectrum

Just had a flick through God Delusion and couldn’t find the passage I wanted to quote earlier, but I did find this passage:

Let us take the idea of a spectrum of probabilities seriously, and place human judgements about the existence of God along it, between the two extremes of opposite certainty. The Spectrum is continuous, but it can be represented by the following milestones along the way.

  1. Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of CG Jung, “I do not believe, I know.”
  2. Very high probability but short of 100%. De Facto theist. “I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
  3. Higher than 50% but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
  4. Exactly 50%. Completely impartial agnostic. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
  5. Lower than 50% but not very low.  Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. “I don’t know whether God exists, but I’m inclined to be sceptical.”
  6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De factoatheist. “I cannot know for certain, but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  7. Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung ‘knows’ there is one.” 

Naturally I find myself pondering where I would place myself on such a spectrum, and also where I have been in the past. I don’t suppose I’ve ever been at 1, but certainly I was at 2 for a good few years. Whether it’s been a gradual or sudden change I can’t be sure, but I think I’d say I’m at 5 with a nod towards 6 at the moment.

Out of interest, Dawkins places himself at 6 leaning towards 7.

Where are you?


5 thoughts on “The Theist-Athiest Spectrum

  1. Eric Beach

    One of my biggest crises of faith was in the middle of my Biochemistry Degree. It wasn’t anything about the course – it was probably more to do with a broken relationship. And it was then I had to start asking questions about the relationship between my faith and my scientific belief. And it was my scientific thinking that pulled me through.

    The more I looked at the complexity of life – how proteins and bits of DNA worked together [using other complex proteins and bits of RNA] to read a code and make make more proteins which then make the other complicated chemicals that all go together to make a living thing ….. the more I looked at it the more I began to realise that it couldn’t have happened by accident. It was just far too complex and all the pieces have to fit exactly or else it all falls apart. Probability meant that there had to be some intelligent design. That’s part of what pulled me through.

    Answers to prayer, things that have happened in my life that can’t be explained naturally, the evidence for the resurrection – all this stuff transcends the ‘feeling’ about God. That’s why I place myself at about 2!

    1. Trevor Post author

      Eric, you seem to be giving what’s called the “argument from design” or something like it. I’m not sold on that one I’m afraid. And you also use the word “accident”. Dawkins et al would argue that there is nothing at all accidental about the processes of evolution.

  2. Jill

    I am with Dawkins I’m afraid. Darwin and science make perfect sense to me! Not sure if I could explain it as eloquently as Eric, but it is something I have always “known” even having been brought up with Christian morals so to speak. I think the two things can co-exist side by side (for me), so what does that make me? Does it have a label?

    1. Trevor Post author

      Jill: Darwin and science make perfect sense to me, too. It’s Dawkin’s next step – to conclude that there can therefore be no God – is what I’m trying to decide I agree with.

  3. VidLord

    Eric, the complexity you see under your microscope took 3 billion years to get to. Keep that in mind next time you look in awe and wonder at those chemical processes.


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