I’ve been playing around in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition and usage history for “atheism” and “atheist,” and found this rather relevant to ongoing discussions.
1876 GLADSTONE in Contemp. Rev. June 22 By the Atheist I understand the man who not only holds off, like the sceptic, from the affirmative, but who drives himself, or is driven, to the negative assertion in regard to the whole Unseen, or to the existence of God.
Now, far be it for me to suggest that dictionaries, let alone the particular usages they indicate from 153 years ago, are correct, but I think Gladstone is making a good point here. Skepticism is primarily an aversion to accepting certain claims without evidence. But this need not require one to reject those claims. Many ideas have too little evidence to support or reject them, and a skeptic can and should be open-minded toward such inadequately tested claims. Open-mindedness, of course, has limits, and I believe it was Feynman who urged us all not to be so open-minded that our brains fall out. Given that no evidence can be inconsistent with an omnipotent deity, I don’t see how there can be evidence on either side of the balance regarding such claims, and thus think there’s too little evidence to justify accepting or rejecting the existence of such a being.
Bear in mind that this may all be meaningless maundering. Up through 1863, there are recorded uses of this 3rd definition of skeptic:
One who doubts, without absolutely denying, the truth of the Christian religion or important parts of it.
So maybe Gladstone meant that sense of skeptic, rather than the more common definition we’re familiar with. Or maybe that third definition is a subset of the more general definition “one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement.” And again, dictionaries are not prescriptive, they simply describe how words are used, not what they should mean.