20

Oversimplification of definitions:

  • atheist: Believes in no god.

  • agnostic: that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable.

Is there a term for someone who just does not care, who has no opinion about the existence or inexistence of god?

They have simply not looked into it. They have not yet formed an opinion and because of this both terms atheist and agnostic don't seem to fit.

Question: What do I call someone who has not formulated an opinion about god? I'm looking for a word other than "atheist" or "agnostic".

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    Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable – Stefan Mar 11 at 18:17
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    I always considered atheism to be a lack of belief in a god (or gods) rather than an active belief in non-existence. – KillingTime Mar 11 at 20:36
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    Is there a word for not believing in magic? – Mitch Mar 11 at 21:52
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    @Tolure The word "agnostic" is often used to mean that a person is simply unwilling to commit to an opinion, and this meaning is supported by modern dictionaries. The word given in your accepted answer, on the other hand, doesn't mean what Keepthesemind says it means. An "apatheist" just wouldn't care. Lack of interest may correlate with a reluctance to form an opinion; just be aware that "apatheist" attempts to explain the reluctance. That explanation aspect is excessive and is out of scope based on your question. – R Mac Mar 12 at 1:24
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    @Stefan Not just that: unknowable ("hard agnosticism") or just unknown ("soft agnosticism"). – David Richerby Mar 12 at 9:52

10 Answers 10

62

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism

An apatheist is someone who is not interested in accepting or rejecting any claims that gods exist or do not exist. The existence of god(s) is not rejected, but may be designated irrelevant.

  • 16
    It may be worth noting that "apatheism" and "apatheist" are relatively recent coinages. Douglass Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (2010) attributes the word to Jonathan Rauch's article "Let It Be" in the May 2003 Atlantic Monthly (cited also in the Wikipedia article you link to. ... – Sven Yargs Mar 11 at 22:18
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    ... Thomas Molnar, Theists and Atheists: A Typology of Non-belief (1980) has no such term as "apatheism," although it he does suggest that pantheism, taken literally, amounts to a kind of "God is irrelevant" atheism because equating God with everything that exists is equivalent to taking God out out of the mix of factors that differentiate one thing from another. – Sven Yargs Mar 11 at 22:18
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    I was just about to hit Enter with a kidding comment to the question, coining the word apatheist. Imagine my surprise to find here that the word exists. – Drew Mar 13 at 2:35
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    @მამუკაჯიბლაძე Isn't not caring/being interested in whether god exists by definition an apathetic approach? It seems very accurate to name it after apathy – Birjolaxew Mar 13 at 15:08
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    @Birjolaxew Well but one can be also actively rejecting importance of the question. For example, because of the opinion that controversy around it has caused lots of violence. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 13 at 19:58
56

Your definition of agnostic is incomplete:

[Merriam-Webster]

1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable
broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
2 : a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something
// political agnostics

In all but the strict first sense, an agnostic is simply someone who doesn't believe one way or the other. They think it might be true—or it might not. In other words, they're not committed to any particular viewpoint.

Unless going by that strict first sense of the word, that doesn't mean that they believe something is actually unknowable. In the second sense of the word, and the casual first sense, an agnostic may also have simply not looked into it much or not really care.

Based on that, you have people who are theists, who believe in the existence of something, people who are atheists, who believe in its nonexistence, and people who are agnostics, who don't (or won't) say one way or the other—for whatever reason.

While there's nothing wrong with apatheism in the other answer, people who are agnostics can also be apatheists. And people who are apatheists may well have looked into it carefully and come to a reasoned conclusion (formed an opinion) that the answer doesn't matter. In fact, I'd say that somebody who claims to be an apatheist must already be aware of what that word means, and so would have formed an opinion about God: that it doesn't matter.

In general, somebody who has not formed an opinion at all is simply undecided. And somebody who has never considered something at all is either wilfully or unintentionally ignorant about that thing.

  • 6
    I think it's worth mentioning the terms "hard agnostic" (somebody who says it's impossible to know) and "soft agnostic" (somebody who says they don't know). – David Richerby Mar 12 at 9:49
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    I'd argue that even this definition is not properly sufficient to make it a good answer for OP. There is definitely a difference between unwilling to commit to an opinion and simply not having one. I think your combination of "undecided" and "ignorant" is probably the best we have so far IMO. If you asked me to choose which fruit is better:a mulberry or a durian, I wouldn't be able to give you an opinion. That's not agnosticism, as that actually assumes that I've ever given them consideration (I haven't eaten either), I simply can't give an opinion on something I know nothing about. – DoctorPenguin Mar 13 at 9:25
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    Unfortunately, I think that this is simultaneously the best word and not a good word to use. 2nd definition is absolutely the best-case for OP's question. But most people will assume the 1st, or even claim that the user of the word is really an atheist, as there has definitely been a push by some atheists to obliterate this use of agnostic as actually being "weak-willed atheism." – Michael W. Mar 13 at 19:56
  • @DavidRicherby I'm thought it was weak and strong, not hard and soft. – Nobody Mar 14 at 9:08
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    @Nobody It turns out that there are multiple terms. I only knew hard/soft but Wikipedia gives closed/open, strict/empirical and permanent/temporal as well as hard/soft and strong/weak, and seems to prefer strong/weak. I didn't try all the combinations but "weak agnostic" and "soft agnostic" get about the same number of Google hits. Wikipedia also gives "apathetic agnosticism" as the belief that we can't tell if there are any gods and if there are any gods, they don't seem to care about us, so why should we care about them? – David Richerby Mar 14 at 9:47
12

Technically, that's exactly what atheism is: lack of a theistic belief.

However, the term has been co-opted to mean the slightly corrupted definition that you presented (holding a non-theistic belief), to the extent that dictionaries tend to report the modern definition.

Wikipedia hedges its bets and describes the whole situation:

Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.[1][2][3][4] Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist.[5][6] In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[1][2][7][8] Atheism is contrasted with theism,[9][10] which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.[10][11][12]

So, although I wouldn't recommend using it because you are likely to be misunderstood, technically you already have the proper word.

As covered by the older answers, newer terms have sprung up to plug the gap (like apatheism).

  • 5
    Funny how we can't come up with some ungodly word without turning to Greek. – tchrist Mar 13 at 1:49
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    @tchrist I see what you did there.. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 13 at 2:06
  • Wasn't he jchrist instead of @tchrist? – ElmoVanKielmo Mar 14 at 14:09
  • I believe that it was the theists who corrupted the definition so that people who didn't believe but wouldn't go so far as to say "there is no god" had no label; it makes convincing people to remain a theist just that little bit easier – UKMonkey Mar 14 at 15:32
  • @UKMonkey I can't say I know the history, but that does sound plausible – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 15 at 1:44
4

A nontheist can be considered apathetic to questions of religion and the lack thereof - it is somewhat of a broader term. See Wikipedia:

Nontheism or non-theism is a range of both religious1 and nonreligious[2] attitudes characterized by the absence of espoused belief in a God or gods. Nontheism has generally been used to describe apathy or silence towards the subject of God and differs from an antithetical, explicit atheism. Nontheism does not necessarily describe atheism or disbelief in God; it has been used as an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions, such as agnosticism, ignosticism, ietsism, skepticism, pantheism, atheism, strong or positive atheism, implicit atheism, and apatheism.

I have occasionally seen the term "nontheist" being applied to athiests that don't really care that they're an atheist, especially opposed to say, the more recent trend of New Athiests that believe religion is a blight upon humanity.

  • I thought I had invented that word! – K.A Mar 12 at 23:00
2

Ignoring the common dictionary definition of an

  • atheist: Believes in no god.

you could also define it broader as:

  • atheist: someone who does not believe in the existence of a god or other divine beings and thereby makes no positive claim to their existence

The latter definition would include all your use-cases (but would not be specific for them alone).

In fact, it includes:

  • agnostics (as in Dawkin's sense of the de-facto-atheist in his book "The God Delusion"), even if they do not claim "god does not exist". All it takes it that they do not make the positive claim that "this god exists".
  • people not knowing of a god-concept
  • people not caring about a god-concept
  • people rejecting the god-concept

The broader definition I brought up here is often used by atheists themselves, and you may have heard the definition of "atheism" as a "lack of belief".

A common rebuttal to this definition is the statement that it would make rocks atheistic, yet that is countered if we include being able to either be a theist or an atheist as a necessary requirement.

2

areligious

From UrbanDictionnary:

Having an aversion for or a lack of interest in all religion and religious beliefs.

An areligious person is one who has become frustrated listening to proponents of one religion or another and finds the labels athiest and agnostic inadequate.

From Merriam-Webster (spelled "a-religious"):

noncommittal or professedly neutral concerning religious matters

1

Along with Apatheism there's also ignorstic.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ignorstic

--

In a purely philosophical point of view atheism is about a lack of belief and such a person would ascribe to weak atheism. But, this is English Stack so maybe you actually need one of various words people have coined.

0

neutralists have no opinion either way :)

Why the negative vote? To be neutral is not to be swayed in either direction. I myself am neutral on the topic, either of the god or sans god scenario could be true.

0

Maybe pantheism.

There are a variety of definitions of pantheism. Some consider it a theological and philosophical position concerning God.[9]:p.8 Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God.[10]

All forms of reality may then be considered either modes of that Being, or identical with it.[11] Some hold that pantheism is a non-religious philosophical position. To them, pantheism is the view that the Universe (in the sense of the totality of all existence) and God are identical (implying a denial of the personality and transcendence of God).

So reality is "god", or reality is "divine". Since there is no god to look for, there is just existence.

-1

maybe nihilist?

See Nihilism:

Nihilism (/ˈnaɪ(h)ɪlɪzəm, ˈniː-/; from Latin nihil, meaning 'nothing') is the philosophical viewpoint that suggests the denial or lack of belief towards the reputedly meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.1 Moral nihilists assert that there is no inherent morality, and that accepted moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist.

So nihilist just doesn't care about anything, including god.

protected by tchrist Mar 14 at 22:48

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