Agnostic: A person who either (a) is undecided on their stance on the question of god's existence, or (b) is an atheist who prefers this word for its emphasis on "open mindedness" and/or its better connotation over the word "atheist". Unlike the commonly understood meaning of the word, an Agnostic is not merely a person who "claims that the existence of god is unknowable". Such a person is lacks a belief in god and is therefore atheistic. (see also - atheist). Reference section 1.4
Atheist: A person who lacks the belief that a god or gods exist. Whether they believe the opposite or whether they remain unstated as to either existence or nonexistence is irrelevant. Only the lack of a belief that god/s necessarily exist is required for a person to be a-theistic (i.e. without theism). Reference section 1.4
Big Bang Theory: A cosmological theory that states that the universe began many billions of years ago, with a sudden massive expansion of matter and space-time from a point of near infinite density. This theory is based on observations of the motions of objects in space, which are all moving away from one another. The theory predicts that a dim background radiation would be left over from the big bang. This radiation was in fact discovered later, thus strengthening the theory. There are still many unknowns such as: other possible forces affecting the expansion rates, the possible presence of dark matter, the exact age of the universe (15 billion appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood), and what conditions led up to the big bang.
Capitalism: A system of economics for a society in which people are free to exchange property, goods, and services, usually through the use of a standard of currency. This system normally balances itself according to the laws of supply and demand. It is known for its great allowance of personal liberty and freedom, but its mechanisms can sometimes result in unjust and unfair situations for some.
Collectivism: A philosophy that teaches the place of the individual is in service the the greater society, and that society's needs come first. Although this philosophy has much to offer in terms of the value of responsibility and loyalty, it is somewhat lacking in concern for individual rights and personal dignity. Reference Section 2.10
Complex Systems Theory (i.e. Complexity): A set of observations, usually mathematical in nature, that outline common factors found in nearly all complex systems, such as organisms, ecologies, and even human created complex systems such as economies and the evolution of languages. By studying these common factors, scientists have learned much about the self-organizing properties of complex systems (the ability of high complexity to emerge from very simple beginnings). Complexity researchers often use Chaos theory, fractals, and computer modeling in finding the similarities between seemingly unique complex phenomena.
Confidence: Belief in a likely outcome because of the pattern of past evidence. The opposite of faith. Reference Section 1.1
Cynicism: In general terms, a negative denial of the possibility of human beings to achieve true knowledge or success in the world. More specifically, someone can be cynical of specific propositions without being a cynic in general. Usually denotes an outright resistance to considering other alternatives, regardless of merit. The equally extreme opposite of gullibility. Reference section 1.3
Dogma: A belief or collection of beliefs which are held for cultural, traditional, emotional, or ideological reasons rather than reasons of logic or evidence. Dogma is usually marked by a taboo against any questioning or evaluation of such beliefs. Dogma may include beliefs in the realm of religion, politics, history, economics, etc. Reference section 2.7
Epistemology: The system of rules we use to determine what is true and what is not. Different epistemologies will result in different conclusions, especially in areas such as religion, ethics, the supernatural, the paranormal, and even cultural and social issues. Reference section 1.0
Ethics: A collection of behavioral standards which have been adopted through the general consensus of a population for the purpose of allowing members to interact happily and productively with one another. Ethics can spring out of philosophy, religion, tradition, political action, economic trends, and cultural movements. The most important ethical principles usually serve as the basis to many laws, while less severe principles are usually enforced through social pressures. Regardless of their source or purpose, ethics have evolved and grown over the history of humanity, and continue to evolve today. Reference section 2.1
Evidence: Physical and empirical observations which have been tested and cross verified by independent sources. Evidence must be reliably repeatable and observable by independent sources in order to be considered useful. Reference section 1.6
Evil: Actions of human beings which intentionally harm the well being of humanity or violate individual principles established to that end. Reference section 2.1
Evolution (theory of): A scientific theory that states that the genotype of a species changes over time in response to its environment. Sometimes this can lead to the formation of new species. This change occurs because offspring of one organism will vary from sibling to sibling in their traits. Those with traits more suited to the environment will live longer and have more offspring, thus passing those traits on to the next generation in more abundance than those of their less successful siblings. Over time these small changes add up. This "filtering" process is called "natural selection". In addition to natural selection, some mutations (very few) are helpful and can change a lineage as well.
Faith: Belief in a proposition regardless of the evidence or lack thereof, or sometime even in spite of evidence. Considered by some religious people to be supernatural means of obtaining information and/or communion with their deity. Reference section 1.1
Freethought: The principle that people should be free to question, discuss, and debate any issue. It stresses keeping an open mind, and freedom of speech, but it also stresses considering claims with a healthy skepticism. Freethought was also a literary and philosophic movement, including writers such as Mark Twain, among others. Reference section 1.14
Fundamentalism: An outlook which proclaims absolute and perfect knowledge of truth and is generally hostile toward any opposition or other points of view. This phenomenon among humans is noted for its inflexibility and intolerance. It may be seen among various religious people, philosophic circles, political parties, racial or cultural groups, and even (ironically) among some claiming to be freethinkers. In Religious areas, it is usually associated with a literal interpretation of scripture and an extremely conservative worldview, historically hostile to the equality of women, church/state separation, and personal liberty. Reference section 2.7
Good: Actions of human beings which intentionally help the well being of humanity or uphold individual principles established to that end. Reference section 2.1
Group Anthropomorphization: The tendency of some people and philosophies to look at a large group as though it were a distinct and single being. These groups may include companies, nations, races, and so on. Victims of this tendency will often be heard stating that such group "wants" to do something, or "has a right" to something, or "deserves" something, or "owes" something. This tendency leads to several logical errors touching on topics such as the individual/society relationship and social justice. Reference section 2.11
Humanism: A naturalistic philosophy that stresses ethics based on human needs and well being.
Humility: Not claiming that you have knowledge of improvable assertions. Acknowledging your limitations. Reference section 1.5
Hypothesis: An educated guess. A speculative model for explaining something, which is based on what has been established to date. This is the first stage in scientific work. Hypotheses must then be scrutinized and tested against evidence in order to be considered "verified" to any degree. Non scientists commonly use the word "theory" for what is actually a mere hypothesis. This leads to a great deal of misunderstand and an under-appreciated level of certainty when the public hear scientists use the word "theory". For the actual definition of "theory", see that entry.
Justice: When the severity of the punishment or reward is matched as closely as possible to the severity of the offense or deed, and dispensed by a democratically valid authority.
Logic: A system of analyzing premises and conclusive statements in order to ensure that they are related to one another in a rational manner. A logical argument is usually presented as a series of premises which lead to a conclusion. To be logically valid, the conclusion must derive from all of the premises presented. Reference section 1.7
Marriage: A social state of life commitment between two or more individuals. Generally a mechanism to extend the stability found in the family, for the spouses and also for any future offspring they may have. Reference section 2.15
Morality: Much like the more universal term "ethics", but usually referring to the ethical norms of a particular culture or people.
Mythology: Stories which carry some cultural and social significance for a people. Although commonly thought of as fantasy, a story can be absolutely factual, pure fiction, or something in between and still be mythology. The only qualifier is that it is a story that carries cultural significance, regardless of it's truth or falsehood.
Nontheist: Another word for "atheist" which stresses the fact that the person merely lacks a belief in god, rather than necessarily believing that there is no god. Reference section 1.4
Objectivism: A philosophy developed by Ayn Rand. Like humanism, it shares a naturalistic view of the world. But unlike humanism, objectivism holds that a person's highest moral duty is to themselves. Objectivism is also known for its strong support of capitalism, individual rights, and non-intrusive government. Reference section 2.10
Occam's Razor: A principle that states that, given the choice between two or more possible explanations, the simpler of them is the preferred, since it requires the least number of assumptions. Reference section 1.9
Paranormal: Phenomena which is unproven, but which is alleged to operate according to unknown laws of physics (as opposed to the supernatural). An examples would be ESP.
Person: A self aware being capable of rational thought. This would include human beings as a norm. It may include some higher animals to a lesser extent, depending on what we may find out. It would also necessarily include extra terrestrial life forms which had civilizations and the ability to develop technology as we do. It would not include simple animals, humans who are brain-dead, and fertilized eggs which had not yet developed a central nervous system.
Post Modernism: A philosophy that states that there is no objective reality, and that all facts are dependant on the subjective views of equally viable observers. There is another definition of post modernism related to art which is not of relevance to this site.
Reason: The faculty that allows us to process information in a way that is useful at reaching factual conclusions. It makes use of empirical observation, logic, and the testing of beliefs.
Religion: A social institution based around a set of beliefs and worldview involving the supernatural or matters of faith. Reference section 2.2
Religious Humanism: A branch of humanists who prefer to practice humanism as a religion. It is commonly believed that religious humanists are people with supernatural beliefs who share humanists' concern for treatment of our fellow human beings and of human rights. However, religious humanists have the exact same epistemology, beliefs, and naturalistic outlook as do secular humanists. The only difference is the social structure they choose to practice the philosophy in.
Revenge: When the response to an offense is not tempered in relation to the severity of the offense, but instead matched or exceeded by the degree of anger or outrage of those offended. Revenge is usually not dispensed through a legitimate source either, but even a source which is legitimate for dispensing justice may dispense revenge if the punishment is not properly set according to the crime. (see "Justice")
Rights: A particular set of ethical principles which state standards of treatment and freedoms that individuals should be able to enjoy. Like all ethics, rights are continually in a state of evolution, dependant on the experiences and lessons of history. Many of these principles are ideally protected by law but this is often not the case. Therefore, someone may have inherent "right" in terms of principle and ethics and yet not enjoy that right in legal terms.
Science: A systematic approach of verifying propositions through physical experiment and evidence, subject to peer review.
Secular Humanism: A branch of humanism which emphasizes humanism as a secular (non-religious) philosophy and promotes it as an alternative to religious living, rather than a religion itself.
Skepticism: A way of thinking in which the level of belief in a proposition is matched to the level of physical evidence for that proposition. Under this view, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Often confused with "cynicism". Reference section 1.3
Socialism: A system of economics in which all wealth is distributed equally by the state. Although based on motives of compassion, socialism is often marked by corruption, stagnating industries, and problems in the distribution of goods. It can also be antithetical to personal liberty, due to restrictions on the ownership of property.
Society: A population of people living and working interactively in a given region. A society can include small scale communities, nation-states, or even global-level populations.
Socio-Personal Humanism: A specific set of philosophies on a wide variety of issues, which could be considered a subset of secular humanism. Marked by a naturalistic worldview, social liberalism, economic conservatism, support for abortion rights, and support for the death penalty. Based on the Socio-Personal principle, which seeks to formalize the individual/society relationship. It has been labeled as such to distinguish it from secular humanism in general, given that many of its positions are more specific than is appropriate for a philosophy of mass appeal (meant to be considered on an issue by issue basis). Coined by DT Strain for this website. Reference section 0.0
Supernatural: That which operates independently of the physical laws of the universe. Commonly associated with ghosts, spirits, special powers, gods, angels, the afterlife, and some paranormal claims. A synonym for "magic" which is considered as sounding more mature, intellectual, and believable.
Superstition: A commonly held belief in the supernatural for groundless reasons.
Theist: Someone who holds the belief that god/s exist. Reference section 1.4
Unitarian Universalism: A church which focuses on reverent services, open to people of all views, including even atheists.
Theory: A body of scientific work covering a particular model. Although theories vary in how solidly they are supported by the evidence, they are is generally formed after extensive research and on the basis of multiple experimental data. A theory is not a "guess" - it is not even an "educated guess". For that, see "Hypothesis".