I started this blog almost a year ago by trying to define some terms that people commonly confuse: atheist and agnostic. In the course of my researching philosophy and theology, I came across the term “apistevist” and have wanted to write about it for a while but I’m finally getting around to it. The challenge is that the word is relatively new–so new, in fact, that dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com don’t even list it. The definition I’ve seen suggested is:
“A person who does not use faith to know things-especially in the religious sense.”
I stumbled across this about a year ago watching Aron Ra at International Atheist Day 2019 in Austin, Texas. He was wearing a shirt with a triangular symbol on it that I didn’t recognize. After doing a little digging, it turns out it was a “zopdoz,” a symbol that represents apistevism.
So what’s the point of this new term? Why not just stick with atheist? Well, I do. Apistevist is an additional term for a different question. Atheist just mean that I am not convinced that a god exists while apistevist is specific to my epistemology–it’s a label for how I know things–in this case, not accepting faith as a path to knowledge. You could be an atheist because you have faith that there is no god (although I would not say that’s a good reason to be an atheist, it’s not logically impossible). This clarifies my position. Saying I’m an agnostic apistevist atheist is a shorthand for saying “I am not currently convinced that a god exists, though I cannot know for certain since that would require perfect knowledge of the entirety of existence, and I do not accept faith as a substitute for reason in determining what is true.”
It’s certainly shorter but there are a couple of problems with this approach. One is that it only works for people who are already aware of the term. If you have to explain what apistevism is then it doesn’t really save you any time. The other problem is that the terms atheist and agnostic themselves are misunderstood by many people so this shorthand really only works for people who already share your definitions. As with any conversation, the starting point needs to be common understanding of the topics so in any debate (or even just a discussion with someone who disagrees) you’re going to have to define what you mean by agnostic, atheist, and apistevist anyway.
So, is there any value in the term apistevist? Sure, if you see someone wearing a zopdoz t-shirt or hear them call themselves an apistevist now, you’ll be a little closer to understanding what they believe and why.