I don't know about you, but because I don't personally identify with either of these terms, the meaning of each of them can get a bit confusing. If someone tells you that they are Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, you have a general idea of their belief system, but things seem to get a bit more complicated when you move into the realm of the terms agnostic or atheist.
Now, as with anything, everyone has their own personal way of identifying with a label, and this is NOT an in depth analysis of each term. This is a bare bones, basic look at each word so that if you are at a cocktail party and someone tells you they are an atheist, you don't ask them what deity they believe in.
Agnostics ultimately claim one of two things:
- That it is not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge of God or gods
- That while individual certainty may be possible, they personally have no knowledge of there being a God or gods
To put it plainly, people who identify as agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities. All that they know is that human beings cannot know that there is anything beyond the physical realm, therefore they cannot know that things like angels, spirits, God or gods exist or don't exist (aka, it's a possibility, but also isn't).
An atheist is someone who believes that there is NO God or gods.
Some will say that they have proof of the non-existence, other's feel that they don't need proof and that the burden to prove otherwise is on the shoulders of followers of specific religions.
Interestingly some religions and spiritual beliefs like Jainism, Wiccan and some forms of Buddhism, accept atheism.