Oxford English Dictionary changed definitions of Atheism Theism regarding Deism

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Oxford English Dictionary changed definitions of Atheism Theism regarding Deism

Forgive me if this is old news.

OED has always been my go to dictionary for definitions.

In an argument this morning I had with an Atheist friend I was very surprised to find that the definition of Theism changed.

He has been reading some books like "God is not Great" and "The Portable Atheist" and told me that Deism neither fit into Atheism nor Theism.

Long story and long argument short he was citing a new definition, and I was citing an outdated definition of Theism.


Definition of atheism



  • disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.



This has not directly changed. However it is no longer the inverse of Theism. Theism has become more specific.


Definition of theism



  • belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures. Compare with deism.


Compare with Deism huh? That didn't used to be there.


Definition of deism


  • belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind. Compare with theism.




We discussed that these changes probably happened due to recent discussions about Deism Theism and Atheism that may have involved these books.


Here are some of my concerns with making Deism Atheism and Theism mutually exclusive and the OED change:

  1. Atheism can no longer be explained as A-theism using the prefix A as a negation.
  2. The definition is not clear-cut. What does especially mean? and where does Polytheism fit since it doesn't fit in with "especially... one god"? It seems they didn't fully commit to the changes.

It seems debate about the existence of God is where these words are mostly used. I can see these changes as very useful in these discussions. Arguing against Theism can often be based on the belief in religious doctrine and God's influence. While arguing with a Deist these factors do not apply. I was very flustered at first, and still am a bit uneasy about the fishy definition in OED, but I am not against the idea of making the three mutually exclusive. 





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 The OED definition I have

 The OED definition I have for Atheism is:

OED wrote:

atheism, n.1 

Pronunciation:  /ˈeɪθiːɪz(ə)m/

Forms:  Also 15 athisme.

Etymology:  < French athéisme (16th cent. in Littr&eacuteEye-wink, < Greek ἄθεος : see atheal adj. ... 


  Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God. Also, Disregard of duty to God, godlessness (practicalatheism).





Are you sure you're looking in the right place? You may be looking at the compact version here: http://www.askoxford.com/  

The full OED definition of Theism is:


OED wrote:


theism, n.1

Pronunciation:  /ˈθiːɪz(ə)m/

Etymology:  modern < Greek θεός god + -ism suffix. Compare French théisme (Voltaire).

 a. gen. Belief in a deity, or deities, as opposed to atheism.

 b. Belief in one god, as opposed to polytheism or pantheism; = monotheism n.

 c. Belief in the existence of God, with denial of revelation: = deism n.

 d. esp. Belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler of the universe, without denial of revelation: in this use distinguished from deism.




So in conclusion, I don't think the definition has changed recently.. Deism is merely a subset of Theism.





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if you're right about this

if you're right about this change, i strongly disagree with the OED.  i see no reason for further narrowing either the definition of theism or atheism.  it is neither etymological, relevant, nor helpful to discourse.  in facts, it smacks of being political to me.

i do agree in stipulating that a god must be a creator and in some way in a subject-object relationship with his creation, but that should go in the entry for god, not theism.  i see no reason in contrasting theism with deism by saying that said god must be active in his creation.  besides, literally deism and theism mean the same thing, as deus and theos are about as close as cognates can get.  be that as it may, philosophically deism is just a form of theism, similar to monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, etc.

"I have never felt comfortable around people who talk about their feelings for Jesus, or any other deity for that matter, because they are usually none too bright. . . . Or maybe 'stupid' is a better way of saying it; but I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I. . . . And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots."
--Hunter S. Thompson