What does all this mean?

Posted: June 3, 2010 by justmeangie in Atheism, General

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.

Defining Terms

Terms

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. 😉

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Comments
  1. […] The burden of proof lies with theists, not atheists. If I told you that there were invisible fairies in my front lawn, I would be expected to prove it to you, the non-believer, before assuming that you also believe the fairies exist. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to make the claim and then tell you to prove to me that there aren’t any invisible fairies. How do you prove that invisible fairies don’t exist? You could say that it is highly improbable, but it would be impossible to say for certain that something with “god” characteristics (invisible, not testable or measurable in any way, etc.) does not exist. Hence why most atheists are agnostic atheists rather than gnostic atheists. […]

  2. I guess that makes me an agnostic theist, huh? I can’t seem to get away from that word…even when I’ve become a Christian! 🙂

  3. justmeangie says:

    It makes you an agnostic theist if you accept these definitions. It’s up to you. 🙂

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