Defining atheism, theism, and god
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At first glance, atheism seems simple to define. If atheism is the negation of theism, and if theism is the view that at least one god exists, then atheism is the negation of this view. However, the common definitions that follow from this insight suffer from two problems: first, they often leave undefined what “god” means, and, second, they understate the scope of the disagreement between theists and atheists, which often has as much to do with the fundamental character of reality as with the existence of one being in it. Some writers address the second problem by reinterpreting atheism as the logical consequence of particular metaphysical views, such as naturalism or physicalism, which are then taken as the true meaning of atheism. These interpretations, though more satisfactory in some respects, can result in concepts of atheism that are unclear or too narrow, and they often still leave “god” undefined. In this paper, I propose that atheism be defined as the proposition that reality is solely an impersonal order. Theism is the proposition that reality is not solely an impersonal order, being either a personal order, that is, an order founded by at least one person, or an impersonal order plus at least one transcendent person. A god is a person who is not subject to the laws governing that order and thus transcends it. I explain these definitions and briefly discuss some of their implications. First I survey prior definitions of atheism to display the problems they raise.
KeywordsAtheism Theism God Order
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