These definitions were derived from several sources, and in some cases modified by me (Paul Arveson). Many were obtained from the list on CompuServe's Religious Issues Forum by John W. Burgeson, Section Leader (5 & 14) as WORDS.TXT, 5-24-95 (2nd edition). "Burgy" also said:
"We have to use words to think with. We have to use words to communicate with. Francis Bacon observed that when two people did not agree on something, it was often because they were defining words differently. That happens very often in cyberspace. It takes a real effort to avoid. This file, perhaps, will help matters. Definitions are taken from the American Heritage Dictionary (1992) and other places. This, then, is a word list of terms often used in this forum, particularly in the "Religion & Science" section. It is continuously tentative. Comments on it are always in order." -- John W. Burgeson
"Every science must devise its own instruments. The tool required for philosophy is language. Thus philosophy redesigns language in the same way that, in a physical science, pre-existing appliances are redesigned. It is exactly at this point that the appeal to facts is a difficult operation." -- Whitehead: Process and Reality, p.11.
Burgeson also suggested the following reference works:
A Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd edition), Anthony Flew
Dictionary of Philosophy , ed. Dagobert D. Runes
Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy , ed.Geddes MacGregor
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
I also recommend The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy by Simon Blackburn, Oxford University Press, 1994. A number of the definitions here were taken from this jewel.
Also see Masterpieces of World Philosophy, Frank N. Magill, editor. Harper Collins, 1990. This has about 100 short articles on many of the world's leading philosophers. Not all. An earlier (1961) edition is better -- if you can find it -- having substantially more coverage.
agnostic - One who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God but does not deny the possibility that God exists.
Notes: An agnostic does not deny the existence of God and heaven, for example, but rather holds that one cannot know for certain if they exist or not. The term agnostic was fittingly coined by the 19th-century British scientist Thomas H. Huxley, who believed that only material phenomena were objects of exact knowledge. He made up the word from the prefix a-, meaning "without, not," as in amoral, and the noun Gnostic. Gnostic is related to the Greek word gnosis, "knowledge," which was used by early Christian writers to mean "higher, esoteric knowledge of spiritual things"; hence, Gnostic referred to those with such knowledge. In coining the term agnostic, Huxley was considering as "Gnostics" a group of his fellow intellectuals-- "ists," as he called them--who had eagerly embraced various doctrines or theories that explained the world to their satisfaction. Because he was a "man without a rag of a label to cover himself with," Huxley coined the term agnostic for himself, its first published use being in 1870.
altruism - Disinterested concern and active care for another living being, with no conscious or biologically feasible likelihood of reward.
Anthropic Principle - The observation is made that because life exists, the formative parameters of the universe had to be constrained to a very narrow range of possible values. How are we to account for this? A natural theologian explains it by simply saying that God intended the universe to be inhabited, so God designed it this way. An atheist might give other answers: "We are here because we are here". (Why do I always see roads when I go driving?). Or, "how do we know that the parameters of the universe could have other possible values? Maybe, they are the only possible values, like pi". (Einstein's question). Or, "Maybe there actually are lots of other universes with different parameters, and we only live in one of them." This is a form of "Cosmic Darwinism". The "strong" form of the Anthropic Principle turns the argument around (Wheeler) and says, in effect, that "because we exist, the universe exists in such a form." This is humanism with a vengeance. The upshot is that the observations may be true, but the conclusion depends strongly on prior beliefs.
Arianism -Theological doctrine taught by Arius that Christ is only a human, and not divine. Opposed by Augustine and Church councils that are based on New Testament teachings. Isaac Newton and many others were Arians.
atonement - In Judaism, a sacrifice (usually a lamb) was offered in payment for the sins of the people. This sacrifice is celebrated in the Jewish Passover. In Christian theology, Christ himself, in his crucifixion, is the atonement, the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." This atonement is celebrated in the Catholic Mass and the Protestant Communion or Lord's Supper.
Bible - The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, the book revered by Christians as uniquely revealed by God, the authority and source of doctrine and moral teaching. Some Catholics include some additional Old Testament books, called the Apocrypha, but these are not accepted by Protestants, because they are not accepted by Jews, and they do not have teachings consistent with the rest of the Bible.
Biblicism - A form of Christianity that places primary emphasis on the Bible as the only source of true knowledge, not just of theology and ethics, but of mathematics, science and all other fields as well. Related to Reconstructionism, Fundamentalism, and Theonomy.
Bibliolatry - A heresy that focuses excessively on the significance of Scripture to the point of worshipping it in place of its Author, and to the detriment of practical acts of love and mercy.
Calvary - The site of Christ's crucifixion, also referred to in the Bible as Golgotha, the "place of the skull".
Calvin - A 16-th century Protestant reformer of the Christian church in Europe, who with Luther opposed Roman Catholic authority and doctrine in the Church.
Calvinism - The theological system of Calvin, contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. It formed the basis for Presbyterian Churches and other denominations.
Christ - In Christian teaching, the God-Man, who came to earth as a Jewish man, born of Mary of Nazareth in about 4 BC, lived in Palestine during the reign of Caesar Augustus, and was executed by crucifixion in about AD 33. According to many eyewitnesses, he rose from death after 3 days and visited with many people for several weeks, then ascended directly into the clouds. He said he came to die for the sins of mankind, and to demonstrate his divinity by rising from the dead. He also taught many things to his disciples, who spread his message of good news ("Gospel") throughout the Mediterranean world during the next century. Numerous written records of his life were distributed in this period, and some of the copies from the 3rd-4th centuries have been preserved to the present day.
Christian - (1) A follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (2) One who has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, and who is indwelt by Christ's Spirit.
Christianity - The system of doctrine, tradition and practice of those following the teachings of Jesus as given in the New Testament.
chance - (1) Outcome of a complex process where the precise cause cannot be determined. (2) Outcome of a process where the cause is indeterminate in principle, due to the nature of the physical world (Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty).
Notes: In the basic sense of belief that a divine Creator created the physical universe, all Jews, Muslims and Christians are creationists. However, today the term is hardly ever used in this general way. Even among evangelical Christians there are many schools of thought regarding the HOW and WHEN of creation: (1) Special or Young Earth creationism -- "sudden" special creation of each "kind" of living thing during a 6-day time period, about 20,000 years ago (or less). The intent is to formulate a description in "scientific" terminology but using the outline of Genesis as interpreted literally. (2) Progressive Creationism -- denies macroevolution and postulates intermittent special creations to accommodate the long time scale. Humanity is a special creation. (3) Evolutionary Creationism -- evolution is the mechanism and a long time scale is accepted, but God is ruling over the entire process. Humanity is selected out of a stock of pre-existing hominids. There are numerous other views and variations of these views.
creation science - the name self-given to the system of creationism by Henry Morris and others, who claim that creationism is supported by scientific evidence and itself constitutes a science.
crucifixion - A means of slow execution of criminals in the ancient Roman Empire, by nailing the victim on crossed timbers. The means by which Jesus Christ was executed. The cross is to this day a symbol of Christianity.
deontological ethics -Presumption that there is something in the nature of things that makes actions right or wrong in a way that can be drawn up into a code; therefore actions are right or wrong in and of themselves. A norm not based on the outcome, but the act.
design - verb transitive (1) (a) To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference. (b) To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product. (2) To plan out in systematic, usually graphic form: design a building; design a computer program. (3) To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect: a game designed to appeal to all ages. (4) To have as a goal or purpose; intend. (5) To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner.
Notes: Design is the primary metaphor used by followers of natural theology to represent the relationship of the Creator to the creation. The classic reference is to William Paley, who wrote an argument for design based on the discovery of a watch lying on the ground. He asked, is it reasonable to assume that an article so intricate and deliberate in its construction emerged by chance? Nature shows us many such intricate designs. The appearance of design implies the existence of a designer, i.e. God. Recent variations on this theme emphasize evidence of "intelligent" design, attributes that cannot be attributed to chance or evolution.
Duhem-Quine thesis - "Given sufficient imagination, any theory ... can be permanently saved from 'refutation' by some suitable adjustment in the background knowledge in which it is embedded." (Lakatos, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge).
empirical - (1a) Relying on or derived from observation or experiment: empirical results that supported the hypothesis. (1b) Verifiable or provable by means of observation or experiment: empirical laws. (2) Guided by practical experience and not theory, especially in medicine.
empiricism - The view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge. (2) (a) Employment of empirical methods, as in science. (b) An empirical conclusion. (3) The practice of medicine that disregards scientific theory and relies solely on practical experience.
Evangelical - A Christian who believes the Gospel (Greek, euanggelikon) and attempts to proclaim it to others as the good news of God's grace to mankind.
faith - Confident trust in a person, or a person's words or promises, with some partially rational basis. "The substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1).
free will - (1) The doctrine of the absolute autonomy of the human power of choice. (2) In Calvinism, the perception of autonomy in a universe in which the only ultimate autnomy is God's. People are not a zero in this view, because they are made in the image of God, and therefore can be held responsible for their actions.
fundamentalism - (1) In Christian theology, a system of doctrine based on a small set of basic beliefs, such as the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, etc. Given this name from the title of a book written in the early 20th century in defense of basic doctrines. (2) Conservative Christianity generally; often associated with doctrines of creationism, inerrancy, etc. (3) Radically conservative views of any sect or religion.
general creation - The doctrine that God created all things in the physical universe by his transcendent power, and sustains them continuously in existence by His wise providence. General creation is a theological doctrine that makes no claims about what may exist, or how things may have happened.
God of the gaps - A phrase representing the idea (in some forms of creationism) that God did miraculous acts to create particular things or processes in the world, which cannot be explained by merely physical causes. Thus God plays the role of a gap-filler in the scientific story of natural history. This concept may have been first used extensively for apologetic purposes by Isaac Newton. The term is generally pejorative today.
grace - The uniquely Christian doctrine of the favor and gifts of God, such as joy and eternal life, that are given freely to underserving sinners. These gifts cannot be earned by religious devotion, by good works, or by moral behavior. Every good thing, every virtue, even faith itself, originates from God, not from the human side. Otherwise we would have occasion to boast of our gifts, but in Christianity there is nothing to boast about except the God himself who rewards all who seek him.
humanism - (1) Any view in which the welfare and happiness of mankind in this life is primary. (2) The study of the humanities, literature, history etc. (3) In Christian theology, the false notion that human beings have within themselves virtue or autonomy, and by virtue of their works they are in some way deserving of rewards.
Note: the non-humanistic emphasis in traditional Christianity is a moral doctrine, not a metaphysical one. It refers to the moral status of mankind, namely, that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). However, although sinful, mankind is still made "in the image of God", and carries the dignity of that title. Otherwise he would not be worth saving. So in this sense, Christianity is humanistic. Mankind is "precious, but flawed."
idealism - (1) The metaphysical view (after Plato) that essential reality is not physical or apparent, but is placed in a realm of ideas or ideals. The world we see around us is not the real world; things are not as they seem. (2) In general, any view that emphasizes the ultimate importance of ideas over mundane and practical considerations.
immanence - The theological concept that God, although not in any way constrained by the physical universe, is present and active in it everywhere and all the time.
inerrancy - Theological view that the Bible is "without error in all that it affirms".
justification - (1) In philosophy, the task of providing evidence and refuting objections to a theory. (2) In Christian theology, the process by which a person's sins are forgiven once for all; namely, by means of the death of Christ, the substitute or atonement. Justification occurs once for each believer.
laws of logic- also laws of thought - The three basic principles of reason, namely (1) the law of identity: If something is A, it is A. (2) the law of contradiction: if something is A, then it cannot be (at the same time and in the same way) non-A. (3) the law of the excluded middle: given A and non-A, there cannot be any third alternative.
Manicheism- An ancient Christian heresy (originating in Zoroaster) in which there are assumed to be two equal and opposite principles, of good and evil, locked in an eternal battle for the world. Augustine offered adequate refutation of this teaching in the 4th century.
methodological atheism - "Ascribe nothing to the gods". Rule #1 of natural science; dates back to the Epicureans, about 200 B.C. Also called "methodological naturalism". The scientist is to seek causes for all phenomena in the world itself, not beyond it. Opposed to "god-of-the-gaps" concept in some forms of natural theology.
natural philosophy - The study of nature and the physical universe; an old term for science.
observational/theoretical distinction - A classic problem in the philosophy of science. Theories are statements. Statements must be tested against other statements in order to be justified. But observations are not statements. Any attempt to turn an observation into a statement may beg the question. (See K. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery.)
Ockham's razor, also Occam's razor. noun. A rule in science and philosophy stating that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. This rule is interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known. Also called the Law of Parsimony.
Note: Francis Schaeffer pointed out that since the 'All' is generally
considered to be an impersonal entity, it is inappropriate to use the root
'theism' (which refers to a personal entity), so he referred to this popular
belief by the clumsy term 'pan-everything-ism'.
Note: this term was given a new lease on life by Thomas Kuhn,
whose Structure of Scientific Revolutions used it to represent a
kind of dominant idea or system of science that prevails during a period
of "normal science". Alternative paradigms can coexist with equal
claims to scientific validity. Numerous other definitions of the word were
assumed by Kuhn. This work helped to refute positivism and establish the
post-modern era of relativism, and has been especially influential in the
Plato - Greek philosopher. A follower of Socrates, he founded the Academy (386), where he taught and wrote for much of the rest of his life. Plato presented his ideas in the form of dramatic dialogues, as in The Republic.
pragmatism - The name given to an otherwise diverse group of philosophies holding that a value theory grounded in practical outcomes (effects) can be formulated and used to decide the truth of any conception, physical or metaphysical.
Note: Pragmatism says that "the end justifies the means." Pragmatic argument: "If something works, it must be right." This is a fallacy, because there may be other and better ways for something to work. The converse, however, is not a fallacy. If something is right, it has to work -- at least in the long run.
Protestantism - The Christian movement, which arose in the 16th century, that protested some teachings and practices of the Catholic Church of the time, and resulted in the Reformation, in which churches in many areas of Europe became separated from the authority of the Catholic Church, headquartered in the Vatican in Rome. These churches developed in their own directions, as Lutheran, Presbyterian and Episcopalian denominations. Later, additional denominations such as the Baptists, Mennonites and Methodists arose and are also considered Protestant.
proof - (1) argument based on rigorous logical or mathematical deduction from true premises. (2) argument based on an accumulation of evidence, and refutation of all counterevidence, in favor of a particular explanation.
providence - The theological doctrine of the continuous, faithful rule of God over every aspect of physical creation, sustaining it in existence and guiding it according to his eternal plan and purpose.
pseudoscience - A theory or practice that attempts to simulate superficially the language, evidence and authority of science but with a hidden arbitrary basis.
Note: The effort to reduce complex phenomena to simpler components is a quite common strategy in physical science. However, when stated as a general description of reality, this becomes the doctrine of reductionism, called "nothing buttery" by D. M. MacKay. It is related to materialism, and opposed to the idea that "more is different" (Philip Anderson). It is also opposed to theistic claim that "what is visible is derivative from what is invisible", i.e. God (Hebrews 11:6).
Note: Relativism is apparently one of the dominant themes of this age. It is opposed by positivism, an attempt to set knowledge on absolute scientific grounds by means of sense verification; it is also rejected by theists who understand God to be the source of absolutes.
religion - (1) A set of philosophical beliefs, values, and practices based on teachings derived from ancient tradition, literature, and/or a special individual. Revealed religion refers to such a set of beliefs revealed from God rather than written by humans. (2) A cause, a principle, or an activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
sanctification - In Christian theology, the process of realizing the inner transformation that occurred at justification. This is a process of learning how to follow God's will, to serve people and to grow in grace and knowledge of God.
soul - In Christian theology, the soul is the non-physical but eternally living aspect of each individual, who was created in the image of God. The soul is created once for all time, and is incarnate physically in the body, but does not die with the body. The soul will be reunited with a new spiritual body at the resurrection. This is the one and only sense of "reincarnation" in Christian theology.
Note: Many Christians are not enamored of this term, because its metaphysical implications may not be in accord with the Biblical description of God's relationship to the world. Instead of a "world" that runs on "natural laws", God is both transcendent and immanent in the world at all times, and so the distinction between what is "natural" and what is "supernatural" is somewhat arbitrary or exaggerated.
theism - The view that a personal God exists.
theodicy- The justification of the ways of God, especially attempts to answer the question, "If God is good and all-powerful, why is there suffering and evil?"
theory- (1) a conjecture or speculation; a tentative
view about something. This is the older usage of the word that is still
in common use, but is not the typical usage in science. (2) In science,
a system of ideas that attempts to organize all knowledge about some physical
phenomenon, thus providing a description and explanation of it in more
basic terms. Often modern theories are mathematical and provide a basis
for predictions. In modern scientific usage a theory may refer to a well-established
and comprehensive network of descriptions that interlock with each other
and help to support the validity of each other, such as the "Standard
Model" of particle physics, or the "General Theory of Relativity".
The "Theory of Evolution" is assumed to be the overarching description
of the history of life. (3) A particular view or systematic treatment of
some subject that may be outside of science, such as "music theory"
or a "theory of types".
transcendence - The theological concept that the divine nature exists in a way that is physically unrestricted, not bound by space or time, and that instead God determines and constrains what exists in physical nature, by God's infinite power over creation.
American Scientific Affiliation
Washington - Baltimore Section