Forms of Non-Theism

A previous post showed the varieties of belief and temperament that one could have as both a religious person and an atheist. This post looks at the flip side of that and considers some of the nuances that one could have independent of any religious practice or sense. Attitudes towards god or gods alone.

As before my terminology may be idiosyncratic, but it reflects distinctions that I think are useful. On the other hand they are not to be treated as categories that lie exclusive to one another. I inhabit many of these categories simultaneously.

Material pantheist – Someone who believes that  God is simply another way of referring to the physical cosmos.

Passive Agnostic – Someone who doesn’t think about and couldn’t much care about the existence of God.

Agnostic – Someone who feels they do not have enough information to make a choice about belief in God.

Antignostic – (sometimes called ‘strong agnosticism’, or ‘positive agnosticism’) Someone who believes that there cannot be enough knowledge to determine if God exists or not. An antignostic differs from an agnostic because an agnostic feels that they don’t know (but others may), an antignostic believes it is impossible to know.

Ignostic – Someone who believes that that the very notion of God is meaningless, and therefore any talk of God is similarly devoid of meaning.

Polyatheist – Someone who believes that none of the Gods they are aware of, or have been told about, exist. But who reserves opinion on the possible existence of some kind of God, were a suitable definition to be proffered.

Non-theist – (sometimes a ‘weak atheist’) Someone who doesn’t believe in Gods.

Atheist – (sometimes called a ‘strong atheist’) Someone who believes there are no Gods. This is a subset of non-theism, because it implies an active belief in non-existence, rather than merely the default position of non-belief.

De Jure Atheist – Someone who believes that the idea of God is internally inconsistent, and therefore that it is impossible for any God to exist.

Post-theist – Someone who believes that the idea of God is a culturally primitive notion that modern society has outgrown.

Antitheist – Someone who believes that belief in God is detrimental to humanity or individual human quality of life.

Once again, if you can nuance these a bit, then I’d be grateful.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Forms of Non-Theism

  1. Kay

    I guess I qualify, based on your definitions, as a polyatheist. Or maybe a polyagnostic. I’m pretty sure none of the gods I’ve been told about exist, but I’m not completely sure. 😉

  2. Ian

    @Kay, I like it. I struggled over that naming. I’ve met some folks who have been very specific about each God-claim, in a way that most of us on this spectrum aren’t. That’s the distinction I was trying to draw. But I find that pretty tiring, and I’m lazy enough to want to generalize without knowing all the details!

  3. Kay

    I used to get pretty nit-picky over labels (and sometimes can still get that way), but overall, nowadays, I’m kinda “meh” about the whole thing. I say all us lazy atheists and sorta-theists should unite and start a new club. 😉

    I think there is something “more” than what we can see and test for, and I’m pretty comfortable calling that more “God” (though that engenders confusion I guess). Since I have no clue what that “more” is, I guess I’m satisfied to live life as a secular humanist with a bit of non-polytheist pagan whimsy.

  4. Ian

    “I’m pretty comfortable calling that more “God””

    I think that’s probably where I’d go a different route. I’m acutely aware that when I say “God” everybody thinks of their own idea of God, and I know that isn’t what I’m trying to convey. So I find it better to avoid the word.

  5. This depends on what you want to convey. A lot of needless conflict is eliminated when we use our opponent’s terminology, keeping in mind that they evoke different images for each of us. Atheists are often tongue tied by their refusal to use religious language, notably “Thank ____ for whatever”. Religious people at least have a word for it. Like any word, it evokes the image they hold, which will me a different one from you in some respects, but not all.

    When the point is to express gratitude does it matter if it is to Thor or Gaia or Unknown Einsteinian Cosmic Forces?

    Them: Thanks be to God (visualizing the vengeful bearded father in the sky)
    Us: Yes, Thanks be to God (visualizing the Unknown Einsteinian Cosmic Forces)
    We’ve shared a sentiment without conflict, much better than responding with nitpicks about the nature of the thing we’re thanking. This works more often than people give credit.

  6. Graham Veale

    “Hard” and “Soft” atheism take the same propositional attitude to “God Exists”, so I’m not sure that there is much logical distance between “soft” and “hard” atheism. Certainly these distinctions don’t carry any weight in philosophy of religion, despite their popularity on the blog-o-sphere. I think we can blame Michael Martin for the confusion.

    Still, I think that the different terms can refer to different predispositions to belief, or different probability assessments, and there are psychological differences in the two approaches. So these are worth teasing out.

    A good place to start would be William Rowe’s “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism”.

    By the way, it’s very nice to have sane discussions in these issues. I liked your comments on “AnswersinGenes”. Hopefully you’ll keep popping back. There’s a horrendous smugness on Christian Apologetic and Internet Infidel forums, and it’s a breath of fresh air to discuss Theism with individuals who can see both sides of an issue (and yet retain the ability to form firm convictions)

  7. Ian

    Its a good point Uzza – one can share common humanity with someone if one is willing to embrace the difference in understanding. Still that feels somewhat dishonest to me. I’m happy to do that, but I’d want the person to know about it first, I guess. On the other hand, I guess I do what you’re suggesting all the time anyway – there just isn’t time to have a deep discussion about these things every time it comes up.

  8. Ian

    Graham, the labels we choose to identify with are rarely matters of propositional assent, I’d say.

    I agree, it is fun to have sane and well reasoned disagreement. I like nothing better than being told robustly where and why I’m wrong. If you read around here you’ll see that I’m quite an amateur philosopher – not hugely read or well practised in the arguments. So I really appreciate pointers, book recommendations, and callings out!

  9. Hi chaps,
    I have to say I don’t really like being reduced to an “ism” in any sense; I would see myself as an Atheist, but under the definitions at the head of the thread, I would simply be a non-theist. Or an ignostic. But in reality I simply view myself as a free thinker – if someone pops up with a sensible framework for what a god *is*, and proceeds to provide evidence that demonstrates that such a thingy actually exists and the existence thereof helps to explain data, then I’m all ears.

    But why I like being called an “Atheist” (sometimes a Christian Atheist or Cultural Christian) is that I think theism HAS to be challenged. Too often it slips past by default, it goes in on the nod. Even if “God” exists, it is important to subject that to as much scrutiny as we can muster, and to put the counter-arguments. The fact that this upsets a lot of people, and gets ’em worried is actually more evidence that this is necessary.

    If there is a god, he WANTS me to be an atheist. Heck, if there is a Calvinist god, what the feck choice do I have in the matter?! 😉

  10. Ian

    I love the last bit – yes free will does make it awfully hard to have any rational position on just about anything, I find!

    As for the labels, I think that labels are things we attach to ourselves. I’ve provided some guess-based definitions. But really they are highly psychological. There are some folks I would still not call myself an atheist in front of, because it wouldn’t help us to understand each other. I slip naturally into several categories, and I label myself depending on the audience.

  11. Ryan

    I would have to say the De Jure Atheist are those that have read and fully understood the context of the Bible to see their are no inconsistencies of God. God knows only of light and not of any darkness. He is only full of love and has no hatred in him at all, there is only pure goodness in God. He is knowledgeable of all that is good and that which is evil, but only acts in a good and loving way.

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