Monday, July 6, 2009

Short Glossary

To all who are reading so far: thank you. I’m grateful for the e-mail dialogues that have sprung up since beginning this blog.

A reader responding to my first post suggested that I include a glossary or link to clarify what I mean by some of the terms I’ve been throwing around, such as “faith” and “atheism.” Below is a short list, to give you a sense of what I intend when I used these words. Read on, and tell me what you think...

~ Atheist: Not a theist, plain and simple. This includes deists and agnostics, secular humanists, freethinkers, and anyone else who does not believe in a theist god.

~ Faith: Choosing to believe something despite a lack of evidence or insufficient data. It may be argued that I have faith in science and reason; this is not quite true: I have faith in science and reason because they yield replicable results. If Isaac Newton developed an experiment or equation to test a theory, I can perform the same test myself and expect to receive the same direct experiential results as Newton. So it’s not that I have faith in science and reason; I trust them. And should our understanding of the nature of the universe and physical laws change, my beliefs about the universe will change, also. This is very different from faith.

~ Theist: An individual who believes in a personal, external god; that is, a creator who takes an interest in the universe and the people who live in it. A theist god hears prayers and responds to them. This is a god you can communicate with, someone who made you and looks out for you and controls daily events. A god who gives you rules to live by and watches carefully to see whether you follow them. Kind of like a super-parent. There are monotheistic gods, like the god of Islam, polytheistic gods, like those in the Hindu religions, pantheistic gods, who are part of everything, and then there’s the trinity god of Christianity, who is three, yet one.

~ Deist: The “watchmaker god.” The watchmaker designs the watch, creates it, adjusts the settings so it will work properly, and his work is done. He doesn’t check on the watch afterwards, or listen in case the watch’s new owner has a question. He makes the watch and forgets about it. After that, the watch is on its own. Substitute the word “universe,” or “earth,” or “life,” and that’s what deism means to me.

~ Agnostic: A person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. Someone who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge.

~ Gnostic: An individual who possesses knowledge, especially esoteric spiritual knowledge. So essentially, a person who believes not only that the universe is essentially knowable, but claims to somehow have this knowledge.

These may or may not be the same thing you might mean when using these words, and it is by no means a definitive glossary. It is meant only to represent my understanding of what these terms mean when I use them.

Do you have any suggestions for words that might be added to this list?


  1. Wow. I've been going through some spiritual stuff lately. This list has really helped me a lot.

    Bully, AFK!

  2. Thank you very much for this list, it does help since you have a few slightly different definitions then I would have used. For example, I consider 'theism' to be a religious faith that believes in the existence of at least one god. I would consider deism a form of theism, then, since I don't consider the particulars of what type of god(s) (personal or not) to be important to that classification. That you make a distinction is interesting and knowing this will help to interpret your posts in the manner you intended.

    I should emphasize, I do not think any of your usages are 'wrong' in any way. Language is a fluid thing and we all have slightly different meanings for most terms. In common usage these differences don't cause any misunderstanding, but in some subjects (this being one) the nuances can be sufficient as to lead to wildly different interpretations of the same sentence. That you are posting this will help your readers (myself included) to understand what you are trying to say in other posts.

    Here are two more terms I think you and I might have some slightly differing definitions for: 'Science' and 'Reason'. For example, I draw a distinction between "Science" and "The Scientific Method". Your usage above implies you either don't have such a distinction or you draw it at a different point.