I regularly dialogue with people who, though they identify themselves as “atheists”, do not have a clear sense of how God — that which they purportedly don’t believe in — should be defined. To be sure, they are able to say in a piecemeal fashion “I don’t believe in Yahweh, Thor or Allah…” but they can’t get down to the essence and provide a succinct definition of the type of which each of these is a token.
This is a troubling situation. Imagine if somebody comes up to you and says “I am an a-autoist. I don’t believe cars exist.”
“What do you mean?” you ask.
“Well, I don’t believe in Ford Mustangs or Volkswagen Golfs or Mazda Miatas.”
“No, I also don’t believe in Dodge Neons or Jaguar E Types or Honda Accords.”
“No. I also don’t believe in Chevy Corvettes or Hyundai Accents.”
“Okay, but what is the basic definition of ‘car’ you accept such that you believe none of them exist?”
“I also don’t believe in Cadillac Fleetwoods and Jeep Wrangers…”
The problem of course is that the a-autoist doesn’t really know what a-autoism is because they don’t know what a car in its essence is. Perpetually listing off particular models that you don’t believe in is not the meaning of a-autoism. This is like continually repeating the sample sentence a dictionary provides while never giving the definition that goes with it.
And if you can’t define it, you probably shouldn’t ascribe the position to yourself. That which is true of a-autoism goes for atheism as well. If you can’t define what God is such that you don’t believe any God exists, then you shouldn’t claim the name atheist for yourself.
But don’t ever say I only curse the darkness. Let me light a candle by helping the confused atheists out there. Theism is minimally the position that the ultimate cause of everything that contingently exists is an agent cause. Thus, God is minimally the ultimate agent cause of everything that contingently exists.
So if you believe that God exists as defined then you are a theist. If you believe no God exists as defined then you are an atheist.