A word that can be used in multiple ways is said to be "polysemous" or to have a "polysemous characteristic." For example, while the word "colour" is most commonly used in describing the visual appearances of objects, environments, etc., it's also polysemous because it can be used in other ways, such as metaphorically to describe a person's character (e.g., events in their past have taken on a different colour), to describe bias (e.g., the racist is not colour-blind), to indicate a factor of influence (e.g., the presenter coloured the audience's perceptions), etc.
In the case of atheism, the use variations all seem to include "absence of belief in deities" which fundamentally characterizes atheism (and atheists). Some common variants we've encountered are:
- the position or belief that deities do not exist
- This is an anti-theistic position that also consequently includes the "absence of belief in deities." Historically, some dictionaries did unfortunately cite only this definition, but such instances have gradually become less common as most publishers have been correcting and updating their definitions accordingly over time.
The problem with this variant is that it attempts to limit the scope of the meaning that leads to attempts to incorrectly impose a burden of proof onto atheists who don't actually take such a position. One of the reasons some theists continue to use this manipulative tactic is that when debating an adversary who does not take an opposite position, they feel disadvantaged due to their own lack of confidence and conviction about their own position, and an adversary who does take the opposite position can serve as a convenient diversion.
- the doctrine that there is no god
- This is an anti-theistic position that also consequently includes the "absence of belief in deities," and it's a defective dictionary definition that fails because atheism doesn't have any doctrine. Doctrines are generally important pinnacles of religions that are usually expressed in the form of scripture and/or holy books.
The fundamental problem with this variant is that it always lacks a reference to the very doctrine it claims that atheism is comprised of.