Are atheists and non-theists the same thing? To me, it seems they are. But on several separate occasions I have heard people use them as words of 2 different meanings. I thought they meant the same thing. Here is the text that actually got me to post this question "...only 26% of nontheists and 18% of atheists are women".

The Oxford English Dictionary defines nontheism as "... not having or involving a belief in a god or gods, especially as a being who reveals himself to humanity." 

And the 2 main definitions for atheism I found is:

1. The lack of a belief that deity, in the form of one or more supernatural gods or goddesses, exists.

2.The denial of the existence of God or gods.

So, is there really a difference? If so, I would really like someone to explain it to me.

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Yes, sort of. The difference between not having a god and disbelieving in gods. Bit like the difference between not being in a relationship and deciding against being in relationships. Think of a nontheist as someone who does not have a god but has not necessarily decided they don't exist in any form whilst an atheist has concluded there is no reason to believe in gods and therefore his or her atheism is a firm disbelief.

That makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

Nice and concise.

I believe that what we have here is a failure to communicate.  

Actually, what we have here is a distinction without a difference.  OR, to put the question another way: Is a

Holstein a white cow with black polka dots or is a Holstein a black cow with white polka dots?   Only her

hairdresser knows for sure.

Where's that Like button?

Im an Atheist and my wife is a non-theist. We tend to explain it as this. Me: I'm an Atheist, I don't believe in the existence of any gods and am willing to be out-spoken and informative about it anytime in order to educate and clarify any misconceptions people may have. Wife: I just dont give a shit.

I know its a little tongue-in-cheek but that's pretty much it for us.

That's the general sense I get too.  It's more a difference in terms of how important the issue is to a person and how they choose to self-label.  That being said, it's practically the same thing in terms of whether or not someone lives their life according to a bible, book, or religious community.

Darrell, That was perfect! It's the same with my husband and myself. I'm the Atheist, he however calls himself a nontheist. I think it's because he just hasn't voiced his disbelief as long as I have. Some people find the word so final, so defining of who you are. You have to be out-spoken, able and READY to educate and clairfy. A Non-theist is just an Atheist that isn't finished yet. (more tongue-in-cheek, too much)

Hmmmm, I've always included deists and pan-theists as non-theists because neither believe in a revealed God (i.e. monotheistic god, such as with the Abrahamic religions) which I consider a requirement for theism.

Okay, I just looked up "theist" at and my definition matches their first definition. However, their second definition really muddies the waters. Here they are:

1.  the belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation ( distinguished from deism).
2.  belief in the existence of a god or gods ( opposed to atheism).

Normally, when the dictionary is ambiguous about a definition, it's because WE use the word ambiguously. Lexicographers define words according to their actual usage in society.

I like the definitions of "atheism" you copied from the Oxford English Dictionary. The first one matches my own definition and the second one matches the definition most theists use.

In the first definition of atheism, the phrase "lack of belief" is pivotal. When something is lacking it is insufficient (which might also mean absent). This is how most atheists claim their disbelief: there is insufficient reason or evidence for belief.

For the second definition, denial is the pivotal word. It is an absolutist stance on the falsity of God. Some atheists maintain this absolutist stance. The rap against this stance is that it claims no evidence for God's existence, yet claims he absolutely does not exist -- despite their acknowledged lack of evidence for their claim. Such atheists are probably correct but it's the certainty that gives other atheists pause: certainty about the existence of ANYTHING (much less, God) is based on assumptions. Philosophers and scientists agree that certainty is folly. Certainty implies faith. It takes faith to proclaim God absolutely and it takes faith to deny him absolutely.

Science reveals that reality is far removed from our perception of it. We perceive through sensory apparatus that convert the external environment into biological signals that get further converted by elaborate electro-chemical processes in the brain to produce completely mysterious phenomena such as consciousness and intelligence. There is literally no telling what objective reality is actually like. We hope that our perceptions are a reasonable facsimile of reality but we have no way of knowing. In fact, the more we learn, the less we can trust the fidelity our senses.

So, in short, words like: atheist, non-theist and agnostic are ambiguous in the dictionary because they are used ambiguously by people. That's why there's always so much debate about their meaning. Objectively, there is no single meaning for these words.

It sounds to me, the Oxford Dicionary's definition of Non-theist sound more like a definition of an Agnostic. The "I can't see it, so I don't believe it", line. An Atheist (most) has read, researched and compaired Biblical and other religious texts. Most Atheist are comfortable defending themselves against the idea that they are "bad" because they are Godless. The Non-thesit may be Godless, but not ready to defend themselves.

Yes, I've had the same thought. I also once thought that agnostics were just atheists without balls. But I've come to realize that my definition isn't set in stone -- it's evolved over time. For now, I believe the word is ambiguous and that nobody can claim to have the "right" definition. Dictionaries simply reflect this reality.

Then along came an anti theist.


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