In discussions, I find that terms such as theist, atheist, and agnostic are often not clearly defined. For example, it’s often difficult to explain that a person can be both agnostic and atheist. I wanted to attempt to clarify these terms as best I can.
Before we get started, I think it’s important to clearly define “god,” otherwise we could make almost anyone an atheist or theist simply based on a particular definition of “god.” (God is love? I’m a theist!) So to make things easier, I’ll use what I perceive to be the standard cultural and religious definition: a supernatural being(s) who created the world and intercedes in human affairs. This is probably not the best definition, but I feel that it works for our purposes. If you have a better definition or contentions with this definition, please leave a comment.
Whether a person is gnostic or agnostic depends on the claim that we can “know” whether or not a god exists.
Gnostic=We CAN KNOW whether or not a god exists. (Sometimes the term “Strong” is used synonymously.)
Agnostic=We CANNOT KNOW whether or not a god exists. (Sometimes the term “Weak” is used synonymously.)
Whether a person is theistic or atheistic depends on whether or not they “believe” in a god.
Theist=Belief in a god.
Atheist=No belief in a god.
A gnostic theist would think that we can know for sure whether a god exists and believes that a god does exist. Most Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. would call themselves Gnostic Theists.
An agnostic theist (less common) would think that we can’t know for sure that a god exists but still believes in a god.
A gnostic atheist (less common) would think that we can know for sure whether a god exists and believes that a god does not exist.
An agnostic atheist would think that we can’t know for sure whether a god exists, but believes that a god does not exist. Many atheists fall in this category simply because nonexistence cannot be proven conclusively. (Russell’s Teapot, FSM)
If you’re a visual person, or if my descriptions just suck, here are some grids that break it down pretty well.
Hopefully that clears things up a bit so that conversations will be easier in the future. Again, if you have contentions with these definitions, please leave a comment. This is just how I understand the terms at this time. As with anything, it could change. 😉