So I decided to go to the Oxford English Dictionary to find a handful of words that are often misused when talking about atheists. I think that clearing them up would help with a lot of confusion, however, let’s not forget that this actually doesn’t matter. You don’t win a debate by saying that according to such-and-such dictionary, you’d be classified as this a this instead of that. You can’t say that since you fall into this category, you must believe that. It’s a good thing as a general rule to separate people as a way of distinguishing them, to get a feel of them, but it is always, always, better to just ask them what they believe. So here we go.
Atheism: “Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”. The common misconception here, the very, very common misconception, is that people tend to think that atheists believe that deities do not exist. However, to have a disbelief in something does not correlate to a belief in the negative of. For instance, the majority of us have a disbelief in Bigfoot/Yeti/Sasquatch, meaning that in our daily life, we do not consider this man-monster hybrid to be an explanation for phenomenon, instead, seeking better explanations. However, this does not mean that we believe that they do not exist, in any form, at any time, in any place. There could be some gorilla-human chimera, but we just don’t have evidence for it.
Agnosticism: “A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God”. This is the position that is neither theist nor atheist: it’s a claim about what we can know. To say that they have a disbelief in god is to say that they do not accept a certain notion or definition of “god”, which they don’t, because they don’t know what that notion is. They don’t believe we can know that notion.
Materialism: “The doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications”. To be honest, this is utilized commonly as a misnomer. There is more than matter: for instance, energy. At best bet, materialism would say that everything can boil down to at least a force carrying particle.
Physicalism: “The doctrine that the real world consists simply of the physical world”. This is distinct from materialism. The physical world would include fields and energy, etc. The vast majority of people apply this to almost all situations in their life as an explanation to phenomenon, and this is the realm that science is subject to- or, science is subject to only this field.
Naturalism: “A philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted”. I can find no distinction from this to physicalism and I would like to know if there is a subtle difference that I don’t get. At this point, yes, physicalism and naturalism are synonymous.
Moral Nihilism: “The rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless”. This is often used as to designate the idea that there are no objective morals, but that is false. Moral nihilism says that morals just don’t exist. If I say that I think my god thinks something is bad or that I say I think something is bad, a moral nihilist would respond by saying that both of those would be false.