Jane Galt calls herself an “agnotheist,” which she defines as “an agnostic who puts a very, very low – yet non-zero! – value on P(God).” That’s a very good description of my own position. But did we really need a new word here? I suggest that Jane should bite the bullet and call herself an atheist.
As recently as a few years ago, I referred to myself as an agnostic for just the reason that Jane describes. I reserved “atheist” for absolute certainty of the non-existence of god, and “agnostic” for a degree of certainty less than 100%. But after many conversations with my old roomie Julian, I realized that was silly, because I’m not 100% certain about anything. I’m not 100% certain that unicorns don’t exist, yet I don’t call myself a “unicorn agnostic.” I’m not 100% certain there’s no such thing as ESP, yet I don’t call myself an “ESP agnostic.” When I say I don’t believe in unicorns or ESP, it means that I just don’t have any good reason to think they’re real, and so I proceed on the assumption that they aren’t. If P(unicorns) and P(ESP) are sufficiently small, they don’t merit having representation in your label. Why treat P(God) any differently?
A more difficult question would arise if your P(God) were substantially greater than zero, but not close to 50% – say, 10%. If I placed that high a probability on god’s existence, it might actually affect my life. At a minimum, I’d probably spend more time exploring the question. Maybe “agnotheist” could apply here, but “agnostic” seems to capture the degree of uncertainty just fine.
Besides, “agnotheist” doesn’t sound like its definition. I know it’s supposed to be a hybrid of agnostic and atheist, but with the “a-” prefix taken out, what’s left of the atheist is just a “theist” there on the end. That sounds like an almost-believer to me! If Jane had called herself an “agnotheist” without providing a definition, I’d have assumed her P(God) was around 40%. If Jane insists on adopting a new label, perhaps it should be "agnatheist" (note the vowel change).
(More thoughts on the P(God) spectrum here.)