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Deist, Theist, Agnostic, And Atheist


R. S. Martin
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We're throwing around all these different terms but do we know--or at least agree among ourselves--what these terms actually mean?

 

So far as I can tell, deist and theist are just two different ways to say and spell the same word. Agnostic and atheist seem similar. The theists and deists believe a god exists while atheists and agnostics are fairly sure no god exists but they are open to new information.

 

In the other thread where atheists describe their position and the reason for it I get the impression that they are pretty much the same as me. The difference seems to be in degree of commitment to believing there is no evidence for belief in god. I am holding onto one piece of evidence (one concept or category; many pieces of evidence go into making the category) that may or may not be evidence of the supernatural. So far as I am concerned at this point in my life it does not matter which way this evidence goes. I've got more important things to focus on.

 

Five years ago I was desperate for irrefutable evidence. Maybe I'm just exhausted, I dunno. I just know that I cannot give it my full attention anymore and that I feel okay with this.

 

What I hear the atheists say is that they cannot find one shred of evidence, but if evidence were provided they would rethink their position. Thus, it seems they have not closed their minds against the posibility of new information. I know the "evidence" I have is not meaningful to them so I won't push it. I am more interested here in definitions and how this looks in real life.

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I agree on Deist and Theist; however, I disagree about the definitions of agnostic and atheist.

Agnosticism is basically an inbetween belief. While you may not state emphatically the non existence of god, you don't deny the possibility of one existing either.

Atheism is a total lack of belief. Atheists just don't believe in the supernatural, no more no less...

 

I need to look up the definition of a Deist because I just don't get it.

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I refer to myself as an atheist simply because I lack a belief in a deity. I've had people respond by saying, "so, you know for a fact that there is no god?" To which I answer, "Of course not, but there is no deity that I've ever heard about in which I believe." They usually say, "then you must be an agnostic." I then usually say, "whatever floats your boat." LOL

 

It just seems to be a silly thing to argue or debate. Who among us would spend a great deal of time wondering about whether or not unicorns exist somewhere in the vastness of this or some other universe? Is there a "possibility" that unicorns exists? I suppose so. Is there even a "possibility" that unicorns created us out of leprechaun dust? Well, I guess that's a possibility too. Is either a probability? Is there any reason to give either possibility the time of day? I don't think so.

 

So, for now - until I see evidence to the contrary - I maintain a non-theistic approach to life... hence, I am atheistic.

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This confusion has been around a long time. Rome referred to early Christians as atheists. :)

 

Want to be more confused? Read how it's defined or redefined or broken down into different categories here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

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I don't necessarily think theist and deist mean the same thing. Theists tend to believe in a personal deity (at least on some level) who interacts with its creation, while Deists believe in a non-interactive Creator.

 

As for atheist and agnostic, though; yeah, they're interchangeable. I'm not about to go telling all the agnostics who post here that they're just deluding themselves into thinking they're not really atheists; whatever you want to call yourself works for me. I just haven't been given a practical reason to see any substantial difference between the two.

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I don't necessarily think theist and deist mean the same thing. Theists tend to believe in a personal deity (at least on some level) who interacts with its creation, while Deists believe in a non-interactive Creator.

 

Agreed.

 

Personally, my beliefs fluctuate to whatever suits me best quite often, so I have difficulty with settling into any labels. *L*

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A deist believes in some sort of force or power behind it all. Einstein, for example, was a deist. He called this force God, but it was a bit of a misnomer. Theists believe in an actual God, a creature of supreme complexity. Theism is a much less respectable viewpoint than Deism.

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My ex-spouse was a Deist before he converted to Xianity. His description was that he believed in a "watchmaker" deity - i.e., one that had set up the universe at the beginning, wound it up, and let it go, with no further interactions with the universe after that.

 

I figure all Deists are Theists, but not all Theists are Deists, since there are lots of conceptions of deity out there - pagan, Abrahamic, shamanic, what have you.

 

I also figure that everybody's actually an Agnostic whether we'll admit it or not, since we don't really know for sure if there's a deity or not. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. I call myself Atheist because I've seen so little evidence that there's a deity that there functionally may as well not be one, so I figure there probably isn't.

 

Those are my working definitions though. There are shades of meaning to each one that I'm too lazy to go into right now. <g>

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For me, as a Deist I believe in God but I don't believe God really interacts that much with mankind.

 

I've always thought that an Agnostic was someone who doesn't really know if there is a God or not, but don't really care. Or just a boarderline Atheist.

 

An Atheist for me, is someone who dosn't believe in the existance of a higher deity. But that doesn't really mean that an Atheist doesn't believe in something.

 

A theist is just someone who believes in God on a personal level.

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I think that many agnostics would be willing to call themselves atheists if there was not such a negative stigma attached to the word atheist. In a world in which people can be shunned by their families and friends and lose their jobs for openly labeling oneself an atheist, it's no wonder that people would rather call themselves agnostics.

 

I personally don't think that anyone will ever be able to prove or disprove whether a deity in general exists. But a specific deity? Of course you can disprove that.

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Gwenmead wrote:

I also figure that everybody's actually an Agnostic whether we'll admit it or not,

 

Exactly. Anyone who doesn't know or can claim proof for what they profess, are agnostics--even if they don't like the lable. They don't KNOW. A lot of the confusion comes from not declaring one's agnosticism (lack of certain knowledge) or just making declarative statements that are indistinguishable from claiming certain knowledge.

 

I've been fighting this battle for years.

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I call myself an atheist, since that's what I was until I was brainwashed into believing in magical sky daddies. Until such time as someone (or some thing) can provide evidence of the existence of at least one god,an atheist I will remain.

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So far as I can tell, deist and theist are just two different ways to say and spell the same word.
Not really, a Deist is a certain brand of theist as would be a christian or Pagan.
Agnostic and atheist seem similar.
They are the same since neither has a god they believe in.
What I hear the atheists say is that they cannot find one shred of evidence, but if evidence were provided they would rethink their position.
Any Atheist may say that, but that doesn't define Atheism. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods. Nothing else. Anything said after that would be a personal opinion and not a definition of all of Atheism.
Thus, it seems they have not closed their minds against the posibility of new information. I know the "evidence" I have is not meaningful to them so I won't push it. I am more interested here in definitions and how this looks in real life.
They've had hundreds of thousands of years to bring forth evidence for a god. They haven't. The only logical position to take is that gods do not exist. When evidence is presented, it will be looked at and judged on it's merits. Until then it is absurd to believe a god exists just like it absurd to believe that Tralfamidorians exist..... but that is just the opinion of this Atheist and I cannot speak for all Atheists.
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Definitions depend upon the one doing the defining. I have to agree with the statement that there is no single ideology that all atheists adhere to.

 

I've heard some differing definitions of religion, god and deities too.

 

I would define myself as a strict Atheist (with a capital "A") as I do not think/believe/accept the possibility, however remote, of there being any kind of supernatural being/god/deity with the powers/abilities as described in the worlds religions past and present.

 

I also have to agree somewhat with the following statement -

 

Although atheism is very often equated with irreligion or nonspirituality in European culture, not all atheists are necessarily irreligious or nonspiritual. Some religious and spiritual beliefs, such as several forms of Buddhism, have been described by outside observers as atheistic (under the broader, negative definition of atheism) due to their lack of any participating deities.
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I also have to agree somewhat with the following statement -

 

Although atheism is very often equated with irreligion or nonspirituality in European culture, not all atheists are necessarily irreligious or nonspiritual. Some religious and spiritual beliefs, such as several forms of Buddhism, have been described by outside observers as atheistic (under the broader, negative definition of atheism) due to their lack of any participating deities.
I can't agree. I always get in trouble with Western style Buddhists when I explain to them that some versions of Buddhism believe in gods. They are NOT! the Western style creator all powerful gods, they are not worshipped in the Western sense, but a being that can influence the goings on of humans. When I was in Nepal in the mid 70's I talked, through an interpreter, to several Buddhist monks.... saffron robes and all, that were working on that famous prayer wheel at Phunki Tenga that is water driven. He said there was an "uncountable number" of prayers in the wheel. I asked if the gods got tired of them and he said; "They are like music to the gods ears." Granted, in much of Nepal and Tibet Buddhism hasn't strayed far from it's Hindu roots, but they do believe in these beings. And as a further disclaimer, I am not saying all Buddhists believe in them and they are not worshipped, adored, or doted upon as are Western gods.
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I can't agree. I always get in trouble with Western style Buddhists when I explain to them that some versions of Buddhism believe in gods. They are NOT! the Western style creator all powerful gods, they are not worshipped in the Western sense, but a being that can influence the goings on of humans. When I was in Nepal in the mid 70's I talked, through an interpreter, to several Buddhist monks.... saffron robes and all, that were working on that famous prayer wheel at Phunki Tenga that is water driven. He said there was an "uncountable number" of prayers in the wheel. I asked if the gods got tired of them and he said; "They are like music to the gods ears." Granted, in much of Nepal and Tibet Buddhism hasn't strayed far from it's Hindu roots, but they do believe in these beings. And as a further disclaimer, I am not saying all Buddhists believe in them and they are not worshipped, adored, or doted upon as are Western gods.

 

Yes, that's why I said I agree somewhat.

 

It's unfortunate that there are in fact four main forms of Buddhism.

 

* Religious Buddhism (with ALL the monastic/religious god worshipping trappings (NOT at all what the Buddha intended),

* cultish Buddhism (very damaging),

* academic Buddhism (I see this in Japan a lot),

* and the bare-bones original teachings without all the other added colourings.

 

Praying, "worshipping" the various Bodhisattvas as "gods," and all that jazz is NOT true Buddhism.

 

I have seen the same as you describe in China, where the people "pray" to Buddha expecting to gain something. Not going to happen. Buddha was a simple man who died 2,500 odd years ago. It is a shame that some forms of Buddhism are no different from Christianity, conferring "godliness" upon the Buddha.

 

Even in Asia, Buddhism has become "religious." I have these arguments all the time, and it is a shame.

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As for my two cents...

 

Theist - someone who believes that at least one deity exists

 

Atheist - someone who believes that no deity exists

 

Agnostic - someone who does not know whether or not any deities exist

 

Deist - someone who believes that at least one (generally) non-interactive deity exists, and usually shapes their belief in accordance with the 18th century systems of thought regarding Deism.

 

For my own part, I am an Agnostic Theist, since I defer to Pagan/Heathen spirituality, and honor/meditate upon the god Odin first above all, yet understand that I may be completely wrong about any gods existing as real beings and there's simply no way for us to know conclusively - yet.

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Actually, guys, Atheism/Theism/Deism vs Agnosticism are two entirely different things.

 

The meanings Atheism/Theism are derived from the greek "Theos," or "God." Deism stems from a similar root. Each address one particular question, "Does God exist?" and each has a particularly different answer. These are metaphysical positions, dealing with questions of reality.

Atheism: "No, I do not believe that God exists." (however, there are several important subdivisions of Atheism that should be noted)

Theism: "Yes, God exists with qualities particular to my religion."

Deism: "Yes, God's existence can be demonstrated through reason but his specific qualities remain nebulous."

 

Agnosticism is an entirely different critter. "Gnosis" means "knowledge." The Gnostics, for example, were a particular sect of Christians that believed they held the special hidden truth of God's nature. Agnosticism, on the other hand, was a term coined by Professor Thomas Huxley because he did not believe the question is answerable. Gnosticism and agnosticism are epistemic positions, dealing with questions of knowledge.

Gnostic "I believe that the question of God's existence and/or nature are answerable."

Agnostic "I do NOT believe that the question of God's existence and/or nature are answerable."

 

It's a common misconception that Agnosticism is a midway point between Atheism and Theism. However, these positions are qualitatively discrete and not ones that lie on a quantitative continuum. A person can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist, a gnostic atheist or a gnostic theist.

 

Such is the neat packaging of philosophy. :grin:

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I agree on Deist and Theist; however, I disagree about the definitions of agnostic and atheist.

Agnosticism is basically an inbetween belief. While you may not state emphatically the non existence of god, you don't deny the possibility of one existing either.

 

That's not what any dictionary or source says about agnosticism.

 

 

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From the Merriam-Webster:

Agnostic

Function: noun

Etymology: Greek agnOstos unknown, unknowable, from a- + gnOstos known, from gignOskein to know

1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something <political agnostics>

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As a Deist, I always like to tell people that a Deist is just a gutless Atheist...we can't let go of the concept of a deity.... :yellow:

 

I was hoping you'd chime in, Heimdall. I've always found your willingness to admit to the simple truth about Deism (never trying to deny the fact that it's a matter of pure faith and you've no way of proving it) incredibly refreshing. :)

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.....Praying, "worshipping" the various Bodhisattvas as "gods," and all that jazz is NOT true Buddhism.
To them it is THEE true Buddhism. Also, isn't that the oldest form of Buddhism? Didn't Sidd himself "talk" to one, or was it several, of these "gods", or Bodhisattvas, Divas?, in his father's garden when he was a teen?
I have seen the same as you describe in China, where the people "pray" to Buddha expecting to gain something. Not going to happen. Buddha was a simple man who died 2,500 odd years ago. It is a shame that some forms of Buddhism are no different from Christianity, conferring "godliness" upon the Buddha.

 

Even in Asia, Buddhism has become "religious." I have these arguments all the time, and it is a shame.

That's why I speak up when someone makes a blanket statement that Buddhists do not believe in gods. Some do and it seems to be a pretty popular form of Buddhism. Since I'm not a Buddhist I can't say if they practice their Buddhism right or not, but then I don't think anyone is qualified to say of they are or not.

 

 

Another disclaimer - I'm NOT saying that ALL Buddhists worship these beings as, or in the way of, Western style gods.

 

Maybe I'll go sit under my fig tree and contemplate it. :grin:

 

 

.... 1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god....
According to that definition the Agnostic lacks a belief in a god or gods. That makes them an Atheist.

 

A friend of mine wrote this article on Agnosticism. It might explain it a bit more for those that don't have the meaning of it quite right.

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From the Merriam-Webster:

Agnostic

Function: noun

Etymology: Greek agnOstos unknown, unknowable, from a- + gnOstos known, from gignOskein to know

1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something <political agnostics>

 

Generally I don't put much stock in dictionaries when it comes to abstract philosophical concepts. Everyday conversation is all well and good but philosophy is the domain of highly specific terminology and language to convey very specific ideas, especially by making strong qualitative distinctions.

 

I think it's a major mistake to appeal to the dictionary rather than to definitions that make more significant distinctions. Dictionaries are meant for basic clarity, not for abstract thought.

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