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What word means neither "believer" nor "atheist" but somewhere in between?

The word starts with the letter 'A', I tried "agnostic" but according to my instructor there is another one.

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"Agnostic" is the exact word for this. If there's another word the teacher has in mind, it will be unusual, like, "antipathetic" or something. – The Raven Oct 30 '11 at 12:09
@The Raven: "antipathetic" means sth totally different, has nothing to do with belief in God. – Irene Oct 30 '11 at 12:14
Being agnostic means one thinks that it's impossible to know whether there is a God or not. It has nothing to do with actual belief. One can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. – Javier Oct 30 '11 at 13:03
Be aware, also, that people can sometimes get very attached to their personal meanings for these words, so if someone claims you're wrong for using the actual dictionary definitions, it's probably best just to avoid the argument. – jprete Oct 30 '11 at 15:01
Ambicredulous? Ok, yes I admit that I just made that up... – Andrew Vit Oct 31 '11 at 7:36
up vote 24 down vote accepted

I suspect the answer your teacher is thinking of is apatheist, which is a portmanteau word meaning "someone who really doesn't care if there's a god or not".

To be precise, it's not true to say that agnosticism is halfway between theism and atheism: it's really on a different axis, as it's to do with taking a position on knowledge, rather than belief. An agnostic asserts that it's impossible to know whether or not there's a God, which is separate from believing whether or not there is. It is, therefore, possible (although unlikely) to be an agnostic theist: someone who says it's impossible to know that there's a God, but believes anyway.

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It's possible to be agnostic about God in the same way it's possible to be agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden. – Barrie England Oct 30 '11 at 14:40
How does one pronounce 'apatheist'? uh-PAY-thee-ist ? a-puh-THEE-ist? Is 'apatheticist' an acceptable alternative? (neither are recognized by the SE spellchecker) – Mitch Oct 31 '11 at 19:17
Interesting. I'm familar with the concept of an apathetic agnostic (see uctaa.net ), but didn't realise someone had made this portmanteau for it. – T.E.D. Oct 31 '11 at 19:24
Why would you say that it is unlikely to be an agnostic theist? Deists and Fideists would both fall into this category. – John Gietzen Nov 5 '11 at 17:04
@T.E.D.: In the English-speaking world at large, and over decades / centuries, I'd have thought many people would have independently come up with the term. – FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 19:24

I would argue that the term is not "agnostic," just as your instructors said, because it reflects a statement of personal knowledge that is entirely orthogonal to belief. In fact, I would argue there is no such term for the one you are looking for, and seeking it demonstrates a misunderstanding of the topic at hand.

Believing that an entity exists is a binary proposition: you either do or don't. Therefore, with respect to believing in one or more deities, one is either atheist or theist. Some neologisms exist to try and better describe one's faith position, because it can be a complex beast:

  • If you are an apatheist, then you don't care whether deities exist. Therefore, since you do not believe in them, you are atheist. You also probably (because you don't care) have no personal knowledge on the subject of whether deities exist. Therefore, you are an agnostic atheist as well.

  • If you are an antitheist, then you state without reservation that there are no deities. Therefore, you are a gnostic atheist. Aside: the word also carries weight that you prefer it this way too; there are atheists who wish there were, but cannot bring themselves to believe, that there are deities.

  • A deist is an example of an agnostic theist. Some deists include those that believe "there's just something out there," or reason that Deit(y/ies) is/are distanced from the universe and thus undetectable, amongst other positions.

There are other classifications within these groups. For example, agnostic atheists include those who reject the existence of deities, but are willing to accept evidence that they exist. There is also a fourth classification not covered above: firmly religious people are usually gnostic theists. That is, they have personal knowledge that their deity or deities exist.

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It is a not a noun but the word irreligious comes to mind. It's rather passive and nondescript but I describe myself that way.

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The correct term would be "atheist." See my answer and this video: youtube.com/watch?v=sNDZb0KtJDk – Orion Nov 22 '11 at 19:01
Irreligious is perfectly correct. Your response does not compel me to watch your video. – DMc Nov 22 '11 at 19:25
I am not asking you to either see my answer or watch the video. It's a suggestion. – Orion Nov 22 '11 at 19:40
You did not ask or suggest anything; you commanded. – DMc Nov 22 '11 at 19:56
It wasn't meant to be a "command." It's silly to think of it as a command. I am not your boss. – Orion Nov 22 '11 at 19:57

It depends on your definition of "atheist" and "agnostic." Unfortunately many respectable dictionaries have the wrong definition for "atheist" (Merriam-Webster):

one who believes that there is no deity

This implies atheism is a position of belief, when it isn't. It's a position of lack of belief. A better definition of atheist, from the O.E.D.:

a person who does not believe in the existence of God or gods

The same applies to "agnostic." Agnosticism is about knowledge, not belief. "Agnostic" comes from the Greek "agnostos," which means "unknown, unknowable" (from a- "without" and gnosis "knowledge").

It's perfectly reasonable for one to be agnostic while believing in a god or gods (theist, or believer), or not. This can be summarized as follows.

Gnostic theist: I am sure gods exist.
Agnostic theist: I believe gods exist, but I can't be sure.
Agnostic atheist: I don't believe gods exist, but I can't be sure.
Gnostic atheist: I know gods don't exist.

I don't believe a word exists for someone who is in between "believer" and "atheist" according to the correct definition of atheist.

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a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism. 2. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something. The above are definitions of the word "agnostic" from OED. I believe they include both our interpretations of the word. – Irene Nov 22 '11 at 18:15
Shouldn't you add one in the middle, 'Agnostic': "Gods exist or they don't, but I don't know which one it is" (that is, no preference one way or the other). – Mitch Nov 22 '11 at 18:44
@Mitch: I think that when you are noncommittal about God's existence, you express exactly what you say about "agnostic". – Irene Nov 22 '11 at 19:38
@Irene: yes, I agree with what you're saying; my suggestion is for NullUserException in his answer. – Mitch Nov 22 '11 at 22:47
I'm not sure why the OED definition includes 'God'. Presumably it's for historical reasons, because logically speaking, once you list one 'concrete' god you'd have to list them all... – tinyd Jan 13 '12 at 13:37

In a more general sense, ambivalent would have the technical definition you're looking for. In general usage, it refers to being unable to decide. In psychology, it refers to having feelings on both sides of an issue. (Both positive and negative emotions.)

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The first word that pops in my head, similarly to Irene's answer, is skeptic (or alternatively, sceptic), which, as per the Free Dictionary, is defined as:

One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.

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I had tried skeptic right in the class itself,but it's not the right answer. – VelvetThunder Oct 31 '11 at 5:51
Oh, I missed the part about it starting with 'A'. My bad. – Roadrunner-EX Oct 31 '11 at 17:15
"Inclined to skepticism in religious matters?" The skeptic in me calls that definition "biased." Skepticism plays a role in questioning a wide range of things, but is not limited to religion -- other topics that are regularly questioned with skepticism include: Alternative medicine (sometimes referred to as "Quackery"), scams, pyramid schemes (MLMs), superstitions, pseudo-science, pop psychology, diet programs, claims by politicians, etc. – Randolf Richardson Nov 3 '11 at 0:42

According to OED, agnostic expresses exactly what you want to express, as it says:

one who is skeptical about the existence of God, but does not profess true atheism.

I believe you should ask your teacher about the word he/she has in mind.

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I definitely will. – VelvetThunder Oct 30 '11 at 12:07
Please refer to my answer. – Orion Nov 22 '11 at 18:05

The OED records antitheist ('one opposed to belief in the existence of a God'). However, non-theist ('a person who is not a theist') may be closer to what you want to express.

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The problem with non-theist is that it is sometimes used synonymously with the term atheist. – Irene Oct 30 '11 at 12:07
Non-theist implies an anti-theist position. – Randolf Richardson Oct 30 '11 at 12:50

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