Dictionary Definitions of Atheism Variations throughout the last 100 years
The definitions on this page use the word "disbelieve"
when defining atheism. People ignore this word and move right along
to the secondary sense of "denial." When we take a closer
look at the word "disbelieve," however, we find two senses:
an active and a passive.
1. In the passive sense, "disbelieve" simply means "not
believe." This is
the broadest sense of atheism, lacking belief in any gods.
2. In the active sense, "disbelieve" involves deliberately
refusing to believe something. Once again, however, this is not
the same as asserting that the claim is false and represents a
slightly narrower version of weak atheism.
The definition of atheism, encompasses both the "weak" and the "strong" senses of
atheism used today.
A Standard Dictionary of the English Language, Funk & Wagnalls 1895
1. atheism The denial of the existence of God; disbelief
in a God; disbelief in God; a form of antitheism not necessarily
including pantheism and agnosticism. As dogmatic atheism it denies,
while as negative atheism it ignores, the existence of God.
2. Philos. The denial of a personal knowable First Cause of
the universe; including agnosticism, pantheism, and materialism. Called
critical or skeptical atheism.
3. Disregard of God; godlessness in life or conduct. Called also practical atheism.
disbelieve: To refuse to believe; five no credence to; hold to be false or not to exist.
disbelief: A conviction that a statement or a doctrine is
untrue; belief of the contradictory of a statement or proposition, as
distinguished from unbelief and doubt; as, disbelief in Christianity.
Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language 1903. Comprising the issues of 1864, 1879, and 1884.
atheism: 1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.
agnosticism: That doctrine which, professing ignorance,
neither affirms nor denies. Specifically: (Theol.) The doctrine that
the existence of a personal Deity, an unseen world, etc., can be neither
proved nor disproved, because of the necessary limits of the human mind
(as sometimes charged upon Hamilton or Mansel), or because of the
insufficiency of the evidence furnished by psychical and physical data,
to warrant a positive conclusion (as taught by the school of Herbert
Spencer) — opposed alike to dogmatic skepticism and to dogmatic theism.
disbelieve: not to believe; to refuse belief or credence to; to hold not to be true or actual.
Everybody's Dictionary 1912
atheism: disbelief in the existence of a God.
agnostic: one who denies that man possesses any knowledge of the ultimate nature of things; one who neither affirms nor denies the existence of a personal Deity; adj. pertaining to the agnostics or their teachings; expressing ignorance.
dis-: Latin prefix, signifies separation, privation, or negation.
believe: to place credence in and accept as true, upon the ground of authority, testimony or logical inference apart from personal knowledge; place confidence in; expect or hope.
The New Century Dictionary 1927
atheism: [Gr. atheos, without a god < a, priv. + theos, god] The doctrine that there is no God; disbelief in the existence of a God (or of gods) — also, godlessness of life.
agnostic: [Gr. agnostos, unknown, unknowable, < a priv. + gignosko, know.] One who holds that the ultimate cause (God) and the essential nature of things are unknown or unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
disbelief: The reverse of belief; conviction of the untrustworthiness or falseness
of a thing. disbelieve: tr. To have no belief in; refuse to credit; regard as untrustworthy or fase. intr. To be without belief; esp. to refuse to believe in a divine revelation.
Webster’s 20th Century Dictionary 1933
atheism: [Fr. atheisme, from Gr. atheos, without a god: a, priv. and theos, god] The disbelief of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent being.
atheist: One who disbelieves the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent being.
disbelieve: ppr. not to believe; to hold not to be true or not to exist; to refuse to credit
disbelief: Refusal to credit or faith; denial of belief; the act of disbelieving. synonym - Unbelief; Unbelief is mere failure to admit; disbelief is a positive rejection. One may be an unbeliever in Christian from ignorance or want of inquiry; a disbeliever has the argument before him, and incurs the responsibility of setting them aside.
agnosticism: [Gr. agnostos, unknown, unknowable, < a priv. + gignosko, know.] 3. In theology, the doctrine that God is unknown and unknowable; because God has not revealed himself to man; because finite mind cannot comprehend God; because Absolute God cannot come into intimacy nor make himself known to finite man.
The Winston Dictionary 1943
atheism: disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God.
agnostic: one who denies that man konws the final nature of things; one who neither affirms nor denies the existence of God; adj. denying all certain knowledge of God or of the essential nature of things.
disbelief: lack of belief or trust; denial of a creed. Synonym: unbelief, incredulity.
disbelieve: v.t. — to refuse to accept as true; v.i. — to refuse to believe a statement, doctrine, etc.
incredulity: refusal or inability to believe; disbelief; skepticism.
unbelief: lack of positive faith or belief; especially, nonacceptance of the teachings of revealed religion.
unbeliever: one who lacks faith; a doubter; especially, one who does not accept the teachings of any revealed religions.
Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language 1947
atheism: The denial of or disbelief in God, as a First Cause, or Ground, of the universe. As dogmatic atheism it denies, as negative atheism it does not believe in, and as critical or skeptical atheism (or agnosticism) it doubts, the existence of god.
What is called positive or dogmatic atheism, so far from being the only type of atheism, is the rarest of all kinds. . . . Every man is an atheist who does not believe that there is a God. R. FLINT Agnosticism sec. 3, p. 53. [s. '03]
Theism affirms, Atheism denies, Agnosticism ignores, the existence of any such soul. WAINWRIGHT Sophisms p. 247. [F. & W. 1883]
Webster's Unabridged Encyclopedic Dictionary 1957
atheism: Disbelief in the existence of God; the state of godlessness. Atheism: unbelief in or denial of God or any supernaturalism; to ancient Greek it meant denial and lack of recognition of state gods. In 18th cent. it was a protest against religious hypocrisy; in 19th cent. it was any system not recognizing the idea of a personal Creator or any one supreme being.
It sees marter, not spirit, as sole universal principle;
its history one of opposition. Term often loosely used
in referring to agnostics who neither deny nor admit the existence of God, or in regard to others who disagree with current theological doctrine.
agnostic: One who, while he does not deny the existence of God, believes there is no proof of a Supreme Being; sometimes confused with atheist.
agnosticism: 1. The doctrine that nothing is known or knowable of the origin or nature of the universe or its creator, except the physical manifestations of phenomena, neither accepting nor rejecting a Deity with supernatural power. 2. Any doctrine which maintains that matters generally accepted as knowledge are problematical, since all are related and trace to a common
disbelief: lack of belief, unbelief.
Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged
atheism: (from Greek atheos, "godless, not believing in the existence of gods) 1a: disbelief in the existence of God or any other deity b: the doctrine that there is neither God nor any other deity 2: godlessness esp. in conduct : ungodliness, wickedness.
agnostic: (from Greek agnostos, "unknown, unknowable, not knowing) one who professes agnosticism; broadly: one who maintains a continuing doubt about the existence or knowability of a god or any ultimates <~... came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the gnostic of church history who professed to know so much — T. H. Huxley>
agnosticism: 1a: the doctrine that the existence or nature of any ultimate reality is unknown and probably unknowable or that any knowledge about matters of ultimate concern is impossible or improbable; specif: the doctrine that God or any first cause is unknown and probably unknowable. b: a doctrine affirming that the existence of a god is possible but denying that
there are any sufficient reasons for holding either that
he does or does not exist.
disbelieve: vt to hold not to be true or real; reject or withhold belief in. ti to withhold or reject belief.
unbeliever: 1: one that does not believe: an incredulous person : doubter, skeptic. 2: disbeliever, infidel.