Saturday, July 21, 2007


OK. This one is going to a be a bit...dry. It is also sorta by request. In a discussion concerning religion I was asked to provide more thorough descriptions of certain positions. I somehow managed to be short-winded, and although I am quite displeased with the results, I will publish it here unedited, before the OCD takes over and I end up with another forty pages of digitized Nyquil.

Overall, the common, colloquial use of the terms is:

Atheist: "God does NOT exist"

Theist: "God DOES exist"

Agnostic: "I'm not too sure if God does or doesn't exist"

However, these are incorrect (as are many technical terms in popular usage--e.g. "caucasian" and "racism").

The core of the issue is the difference between belief and knowledge (I frequently refer to it as an ontological vs. an epistemic approach). Because of this, agnostic doesn't even address the same issue as a/theism, and therefore isn't a viable option.

As with many topics in philosophy, there are issues with subtlties and nuances that most people would pay no attention to, but can have quite serious ramifications which need to be considered.

I have created a list of positions related to the belief in and/or knowledge of god/s, and provided an extremely simplified statement of each one:

Atheist: "I have no belief in god/s"

Theist: "I believe that god/s exist/s"

Monotheist: "I believe that only one God exists"

Polytheist: "I believe that gods exist"

Henotheist: "There are other gods, but this is MY God"

Kathenotheist: "There are god/s, but only one God at a time"

Pantheist: "Everything is God" (the totality of the universe is god)

Hylotheist: "God is everything" (matter is god)

Cosmotheist: "The eventual totality of everything is/will be God"

Panentheist: "God created everything and everything is God" (God is still transcendental)

Transtheist: "I know what god isn't, but not what god is" (I believe in god but god doesn't exist; god is completely separate from creation, and didn't even create it)

Deist: "God created everything and left it to be"

Polydeist: "Gods created everything and left it to be"

Apatheist: "god may (or may not) exist, but it doesn't matter"

Agnostic: "I don't KNOW of god/s" (knowledge of god/s is impossible, or at least unknown by the individual)

Ignostic: "I don't know what you're talking about when you talk about God." (The question of god's existence is meaningless because it is unverifiable)

Theological nocognitivist: "the idea of 'God' is empty and has no meaning"

The following don't really fit with the others, but are interesting to note in the face of religion (both are theistic stances):

Allognostic: "OTHER people can directly experience God, not me"

Indifferentism: "All religions are equally valid"

There are others (e.g. pandeism, monolatrism), but they get somewhat more complicated and rather redundant. Also relevant are the ideas of monoism, dualism, and pluralism.


Aaron Kinney said...

Good to see youre still alive and kicking! Youre right, this post is kinda dry. Its good in terms of being descriptive, but it doesnt have your usual witty commentary that I love oh so much.

Anonymous said...

Hey, seen this BBC article on "isms"?

Richard Whackman said...

I was given a link to this post during the course of a discussion about - you guessed it: Religion. It seems to me that you're defining Agnosticism (that's me) as a philosophical position rather than a religious one.

Aaron said...

In response to Anonymous, the link perpetuates the colloquial and incorrect definitions of atheist and Agnostic.

DUB said...

In response to Mr. Whackman:

I believe I'm defining both as philosophical positions. Essentially. Religion is a symptom of certain philosophy.

Do you KNOW god/s exist? No? Agnostic.

Do you BELIEVE god/s exist? Yes? Theist.

How do you define your god/s? ...