Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Definitions: Theism to Atheism... and beyond.

Because REASON Podcast and The Offensive Atheists have had to deal with questions about the different ways of belief and unbelief we decided to offer up some definitions. These definitions fall under the two overlapping groupings of Theism and Nontheism.

Theism is the belief that at least one deity exists.  All believers in any God or gods are Theists.

 Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God. Monotheism is characteristic of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, most denominations of Christianity, Islam, Baha’i).

Monolatrism or monolatry is the accepting the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity. This is very similar to Henotheism which is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped. Many religious scholars would argue that the God of the early Old Testament was a product of this belief. Kathenotheism is a somewhat more specific form of the parent term henotheism, and refers to the worship of a succession of supreme gods "one at a time.”

Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals.

Hybrid-theism is an amalgam of Polytheism and Monotheism where there are two or more gods who are facets of one supreme God. Hinduism and the Christian trinity are examples of this.

Pantheism is the belief that the physical universe is equivalent to a god or gods, and that there is no division between the Creator and its creation. There is generally no Godhead or consciousness to this God. Both Einstein and Spinoza claimed to be Pantheists. This is arguably a form of Atheism.

Panentheism, like Pantheism, is the belief that the physical universe is joined to a god or gods. However, it also believes that a god or gods are greater than the material universe. God is the universe and more.

Deism is the belief that at least one deity exists and created the world, but that the creator(s) does/do not alter the original plan for the universe. Deism typically rejects supernatural events or the interference of the deity in its creation. This includes prophecies, miracles, and divine revelations. Instead, Deism holds that religious beliefs must be founded on human reason and observable features of the natural world, and that these sources reveal the existence of a supreme being as creator. Many of our founding fathers proclaimed themselves to be Deists.

Nontheism is a term that covers a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence or rejection of theism or any belief in a personal god or gods. Nontheism is usually accepted as a general grouping for various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions united by a naturalist approach, such as agnosticism, skepticism, and atheism. While it is usually used synonymously with the term atheism, it can also include positions of belief in a non-personal deity, such as deism and pantheism.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.

Positive Atheism is a term used to describe the form of atheism that asserts that no deity exists. Another term for Positive Atheism is Hard Atheism.

Negative Atheism refers to any other type of atheism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deity, but without asserting there to be none. Another term for Negative Atheism is Soft Atheism or Agnostic Atheism.

Apatheism, also known as Pragmatic Atheism or as Practical Atheism, is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief or disbelief in a deity. An apatheist can also be someone who is not interested in accepting or denying the validity of any claims that gods exist or do not exist. An apatheist is someone who considers the question of the existence of god(s) as neither meaningful nor relevant to his or her life.

Apathetic Agnosticism (also called pragmatic agnosticism) acknowledges that thousands of years of debate have neither proven, nor dis-proven, the existence of deities of any kind. This view concludes that even if one or more deities did exist, they have not shown themselves be concerned about the fate of humans. Therefore, their existence is of no import and should be of little philosophical or intellectual interest.

Ignosticism or Igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position makes too many assumptions about the concept ‘God’. This position holds that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless. Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language, and specifically words like "God", are not cognitively meaningful.

Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity are unknown or unknowable. Agnosticism is usually (wrongly) understood as a middle ground between theism and atheism.  More truthfully it is a different scale or axis of belief.  In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist. Within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a deity exists but do not claim it as personal knowledge).


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