Reader Dom sent me a Bertrand Russell quote from what appears to be a very short essay, “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?” (1947)
As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.
None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of Homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.
Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.
One problem here is that yes, you cannot give a logical demonstration that the Greek gods don’t exist. (That’s the “you can’t prove a negative” line.) But you can give a practical demonstration that their existence is improbable, for if they interact with the world you should find some evidence of that interaction; and you find none.
One concludes from this piece that philosophers, at least in Russell’s time, respected logic more than evidence, and were more concerned with logical possibilities than with probabilities.
The answer, of course, is that if you have no belief in gods, you should call yourself an “atheist.” The term “agnostic” is for wimps.