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A symbol for Agnostics

Last updated on 22 Jun 2018

Atheists have their scarlet A, Christians have their crosses and fishes, Muslims have their star and crescent, and the Shahada. What do agnostics have? A while back I designed my own symbol, but never got around to posting it, so here is my suggestion. If you have a suggestion, put the link in a comment and I will update this post and we can vote later on if I can find a site that does Condorcet polling. Ian Spedding, in a comment, suggested a green question mark. We can also vote on colours.

agnostic.jpg

It’s an alpha inside a rough circle, which is a play on the @ symbol (which means, in possible worlds logic, the actual world we are in). The alpha implies that agnosticism comes before claims of knowledge.

40 Comments

  1. darwinsbulldog darwinsbulldog

    That’s a symbol for me!

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      I forgot the explication, so read that and see if you still like it. The prefix for the Greek “agnosis” is, of course, an alpha (but then it also is for “atheos”).

      • Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

        and for aatheos of course

  2. Rather than a rough circle, shouldn’t the Alpha be in a circle of waggons? Or possibly sitting on a fence!

    Nice logo, but didn’t someone of a theistic persuasion once claim that He was the Alpha and Omega?

    • Yes he did. But merely because he used a symbol doesn’t mean he owns it, and even less that his followers do. Anyway, it wasn’t him (he would have made such a claim in Aramaic, and claimed to be the Aleph and the Lamed) but some stoned hermit who was Greek.

      • Now I’m confused: I thought He was supposed to have *cured* the Lamed and the Alephers.

  3. Neil Neil

    “agnosticism comes before claims of knowledge”. It strikes me that this ignores the difference between two different positions. Agnosticism is prior to knowledge: I don’t know what the evidence supports so I refrain from committing to a view; agnosticism as a knowledge claim: I know that the evidence fails to support either theism or atheism. The first is an expression of epistemic humility; the second is a knowledge claim that is no more or less humble than rivals (here humility is not meant to pick out a virtue; I am an atheist).

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Agnosticism is the refusal to adopt (for a given claim) an epistemic position. So I do not think it is a knowledge claim. It is the absence of a knowledge claim, indexed to the putative belief.

  4. bad Jim bad Jim

    This is certainly obscure, and may not render:

    ℵ?

    It should be an aleph with a subscript question mark.

  5. jeff jeff

    The alpha-sign may be more academic and more meaningful, but I don’t know, a question mark is more universally recognized, and on your shirt it would naturally draw out more questions and interest. Green or Blue are nice cool colors.

    When PZ first tried to unite the atheists under a sign, I thought it would be like herding cats, and wouldn’t work. But I was wrong, and had underestimated the intensity of the anti-religion sentiment at the time, which was actually more of a backlash against the rise of creationism and the Bush years. But today, it seems more like he’s herding zombies, and his new zombie strategy is right on target.

    I don’t know if you’ll be able to do the same with the agnostics. The group is probably smaller, and of the two largest subgroups – weak agnostics and apathetic agnostics (don’t know, don’t care), the apathetic agnostics won’t be interested. But then again, I could be underestimating the intensity of some rising anti-atheist sentiment.

    • Sorry for bothering, but “anti-atheist sentiment”…I’m not so sure if any agnostic-movement should have that single “sentiment” behind it…that’s what it kinda sounds like with that last statement.
      Identifying as something (over a symbol) is not only saying what you are “against” (especially if that is in that case only one of the sides agnostics aren’t taking sides with).
      In short: I just find it not sufficient to reduce an agnostic-movement or view as “anti-atheist”.
      I’m sorry if I completely misunderstood that…

      • jeff jeff

        I don’t think it should have that sentiment behind it either – at least not universally against atheists (instead of just PZ’s group), but I can’t help observing how anti-religious sentiment helped PZ’s group to coalesce, or speculating that some anti-atheist sentiment (see Ron Rosenbaum’s article in Slate) may be a contributing factor in helping an agnostic group to coalesce.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        The thing is I really don’t want a movement, not even an Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement with the circles and arrows on the back of each one…. sorry, where was I?

        Oh, yes; I don’t want an agnostics movement. I merely want to be able to say I am not in either of the two camps, without each camps asserting that I really am (atheists asserting I am “theist-friendly” or somesuch term of abuse as “faitheist”, and theists asserting I am really an atheist, and vice versa, sometimes the same people). I don’t need a social group: that’s what I do in other ways. I don’t want to deny either camp their rights to define themselves and make their cases. I don’t want to exclude either group from social discourse. I don’t even want a badge, except to say, this is me, and I’m not part of those guys’ belief (or disbelief) systems. It’s a matter of clarity, that’s all.

      • I don’t do symbols or slogans they’re so restrictive.

    • PZ hasn’t united Atheists under a banner; he has united a particular subset of Atheists under a banner. But I suspect that particular subset was already fairly united. I am an Atheist, and proud of it (worked it out for myself, age 12), but I have never liked the banner. And it’s not just because they used a serif font.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        It’s a script font, I thought.

  6. A site that does Condorcet voting … like http://www.ericgorr.net/condorcet/ for example?

    I used this site years ago when facilitating the Conlanging community’s vote for a flag. You can see the design that was chosen if you look up “constructed language” on Wikipedia (which I think is the only Wikipedia article that contains a link to my blog).

    I will comment again if I decide that I have an opinion regarding the substance of the post.

  7. Here’s a crude implementation of an idea involving a question mark: http://twitpic.com/21rrf3

    Things to note:

    1. Within the big circle, the question mark forms an intermediate region between black (representing a definite no) and white (representing a definite yes).

    2. The little circles double as the point of the question mark and as the little bubbles below a thought bubble, indicating deep thought.

    3. You could make versions with different colours instead of grey.

    4. It really is very crude, and people who see potential in the concept are welcome to take it and improve it.

    • I did a second design, this time using the @ symbol (with the meaning cited by John) rather than a question mark. Black and white regions represent the many different ‘yes’ and ‘no’ possibilities.

      http://twitpic.com/22cp94

      (I’m only doing this because its fun.)

  8. Guy Plunkett Guy Plunkett

    It also looks a bit like an ichthys in a circle, at least to me …

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment…

      • jeff jeff

        That series was awesome and Ian Richardson was hard to beat. Why isn’t PBS like that anymore?

  9. Ben Breuer Ben Breuer

    Sorry to butt into the aesthetic discussion. JSW said: “Agnosticism is the refusal to adopt … an epistemic position.” How strong/obstinate is this refusal? What does it hinge on?

  10. Kel Kel

    Wouldn’t a SKEPTIC lapel suffice?

  11. sbh sbh

    I like the alpha in a rough circle concept okay, though I’m not absolutely sold on it by any means. Blue or green is fine; reflective colors seem more suitable to the concept than an angry red or orange, say. I don’t really care for the question mark, though maybe that’s just me. It implies, well, questioning. Personally, my agnosticism derives not from some deep quest for knowledge on the subject of a deity or deities; rather it’s one of many subjects I have no opinion on, much like the identity of Junius, or the depth of Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up. I don’t feel obliged to have an opinion on the subject of the existence of a deity any more than I feel obliged to have a favorite soccer team. I’m not sitting on a fence; I’m declining to take part in the whole thing. But I will get very vocal about not taking part if people get in my face about it, as seems to happen all too regularly.

    Also the “stoned hermit” who wrote in very bad Greek laced with semitic turns of expression was writing a political diatribe couched in symbols that were no doubt easily understood by his audience–rather like a political cartoonist who represents the United States as an eagle, Russia as a bear, or Great Britain as a bulldog. It may seem hallucinatory to later folk who aren’t in on the symbolism, but it was just a literary device, and a rather common one, to judge from the many examples that have come down to us. And also, given that Greek was the ubiquitous trade language of the eastern Mediterranean, it’s not at all out of the question that a Palestinian peasant would have been acquainted with it. Not that I have an opinion on the subject…

    Anyway, I like the idea of an agnostic symbol–just not the question mark so much.

  12. Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

    Of course, having been a fan of the old Batman TV show, I now realize the subconscious source of my suggestion for the green question mark: the costume worn by Frank Gorshin as The Riddler

    • jeff jeff

      That’s what I thought of too when I read about the green question mark. It would have to be stylized to avoid having you look like the Riddler. But the question mark is appropriate. It gives an aura of mystery, and really… are there any bigger questions? For some people, it is THE question.

      • Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

        I’ve been working on a stylized version of the green question mark in which the dot at the bottom is a stylized version of the @ or alpha symbol John is suggesting.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Unless you can provide a justification for this one, Tim, I’m not going to include it in the vote, as it’s insulting.

  13. sbh sbh

    Let me first just say how much I agree with your sentiments expressed above: “… I don’t want an agnostics movement. I merely want to be able to say I am not in either of the two camps, without each camps asserting that I really am … I don’t want to deny either camp their rights to define themselves and make their cases. I don’t want to exclude either group from social discourse. I don’t even want a badge, except to say, this is me, and I’m not part of those guys’ belief (or disbelief) systems. It’s a matter of clarity, that’s all.”

    Second, while I’m still voting (cautiously) for the blue alpha, somebody I know came up with the infinity symbol in the form of a twisted moebius strip, suggesting the largeness of the universe and the infinite number of possibilities in it that defy easy categorization, or something like that. I think dark blue was the color suggested.

    I don’t know. I thought it would be better than the dead fish, anyway.

  14. Hitch Hitch

    I’m very ambiguous about the atheist A. I reject selfbranding to I reject the A. I feel exactly the same way about the @ (I know it’s an alpha but @ is easier to type).

    But for both I appreciate what people try to do.

    But in any case it seems we overpopulate a rather minute area with labels and symbols.

    I have seen definitions of atheism I can side with. I have seen definitions of agnosticism I can side with. And I have seen definitions of both I reject.

    For example I do not agree to “god does not exist” but I agree to “I reject the belief in god”. I do not agree with “agnosticism is a position with respect to the axis of existence and non-existence of god” while I agree with Huxley that agnosticism is a method and we should not make truth claims for which we do not have sufficient evidence and or logical arguments.

    This is the danger of identification. One can then also be identified with labels and positions that one actually does not hold, through conflated, ambiguous or multiplicities in definitions.

    If I had to commit to a label I’m a kind of Huxleyian agnostic. But that position isn’t very far from the epistemological/onthological claims, say Dawkins makes. So I don’t see why we need to split the difference here. There perhaps is a minute difference, but looking at it from afar it is virtual consensus.

    • From one perspective, all human beliefs look the same. The degree to which you wish to differentiate them depends a lot on what you want to do yourself.

      If we had an agreed agnostic symbol, then you could display both symbols if you thought of yourself as agnostic atheist; nobody could stop you.

      • Iorwerth Thomas Iorwerth Thomas

        Maybe the symbol could be colour-coded by subcategory, a bit like anarchist half-flags? But that might be getting too complicated.

  15. Perplexed in Peoria Perplexed in Peoria

    5
    The digit 5 might serve as a symbol for this tribe. Reasons may be found in the Wikipedia article on epistemic modal logic.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Very clever. But I suspect a bit more technical than a popular symbol should be. We can talk about Lemmon axiom 5 in the esoteric circle…

      • I don’t know what you’re talking about!

    • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

      “you people”

      ………………….who’d like another beer?

  16. Howie Howie

    Obviously, there are multiple educational levels of expression on the topic. After years of too much higher education, and over thought, I now assume the position of not knowing something is not a movement, is not anti anything, does not require a flag or symbol, but may?, but still requires an open cognitive process? The jargon of philosophy does not make the discussion clearer, may distract from valued thoughts of lesser informed, but no less inciteful contributors! Human arrogance, and egotism have caused too much, already, ! Harm!

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