SOME DEFINITIONS                     (Ted Drange, Professor Emeritus, W. Va. Univ.)   

D1. A proposition is a meaning or set of ideas (expressed by a sentence) that is true or false and that can be believed or disbelieved.

Part A: Main Labels

D2. A theist is one who believes the proposition that God exists (or probably exists).

D3. An atheist is one who believes the proposition that God does not exist (or probably does not exist). (a) (b)

D4. An agnostic is one who has considered the proposition that God exists, but who withholds judgment on its truth or falsity (and on its probability or improbability). (c)

D5. A (theological) cognitivist is one who claims that the sentence “God exists” expresses a proposition. (d)

D6. A (theological) noncognitivist is one who claims that the sentence “God exists” does not express any proposition. (e)

D7. An apatheist (or indifferentist) is one who makes no judgment whatever on the matter of God’s existence because of a total lack of interest in the topic.

D8. A nontheist (or nonbeliever) is one who lacks theistic belief.

Part B: Some Definitions of “God” 

D9. God is the creative force which is the ultimate source of the laws and designs found throughout Nature.   [a deist definition]

D10. God is the personal being who can do anything conceivable, knows all truths, created all the matter known to mankind, rules the entire universe, is both beginningless and endless in time, loves humanity, and strongly desires that that love be reciprocated.

D11. God is the omnipresent spirit, which is nonphysical, transcendent, self-existent, objectively perfect, and created all space, time, matter, and energy out of nothing. (f)

Part C: Subsidiary Labels

D12. A (secular) humanist is a nontheist who places ultimate value on humanity.

D13. A freethinker is one whose mind is free of dogmatic religious belief.

D14. A secularist is one who upholds the principle of the separation of church and state.

D15. A rationalist is one who regards reason as the ultimate criterion of truth.

D16. A (metaphysical) naturalist (or a bright) is one who believes that everything can, in principle, be explained by appeal to natural law. (g)

D17. A skeptic is one who is inclined to withhold judgment on the truth of a proposition. 


[Re D3]:  Some other (inferior) definitions are the following:

(1) “An atheist is one who believes that there are no gods.”

(2) “An atheist is one who lacks theistic belief.”  [This one is no good because it applies to agnostics as well as to atheists.]

(3) “An atheist is one who does not believe that God exists.”

(b) One big objection to D3 is that a person could be an atheist relative to one definition of “God” but not relative to a different definition of “God,” which D3 does not allow for.   To overcome this, the definition could be modified as follows:

An atheist relative to some suitable definition of “God” is one who believes the proposition that God, as defined, does not exist (or probably does not exist).

[By a “suitable definition” is meant one that allows “God exists” to express a proposition.]
Similar modifications could be made with regard to the definitions of “theist,” “agnostic,” “cognitivist,” “noncognitivist,” and “nontheist” as well.

(c) [Re D4]: Another good definition of “agnostic” is “one who believes that no one knows whether or not God exists (or probably exists).” [Call such a person a “strong agnostic.”]

(d) [Re D5]:  All theists, atheists, and agnostics are cognitivists.

(e) [Re D6]:  Theological noncognitivists are to be distinguished from ethical noncognitivists, who maintain that ethical judgments (like “Stealing is wrong”) fail to express any proposition (or anything that is true or false).

(f) [Re D9-11]:  A person could consistently be an agnostic (or even a theist) relative to definition D9, an atheist relative to D10, and a noncognitivist relative to D11.  But a person could not be any two of those relative to the same definition.

(g) [Re D16]:  The opposing group would be supernaturalists (or “supers”), who believe in supernatural beings, forces, or events.  Some supernaturalists are nontheists, e.g., Buddhists, Taoists, religious humanists, New Age enthusiasts, etc.  Many of them believe in what they call “spirituality.”  Many of them believe in an afterlife.

Like secular humanists, naturalists need to be nontheists, but freethinkers, secularists, and rationalists could be deists or rational theists.

REFERENCE:  Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Prometheus
Books, 1998).