Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of teh world; it is simply an administration of the obvious.
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 51
While that is what most atheists agree upon, it is not that simple. The term atheism originated as a pejorative epithet applied to any person or belief in conflict with established religion(source: wikipedia). The term later became associated with not believing in a God, but is still associated with those who reject theism.
A deistic atheist is an atheist who believes in God, or what might also be called a higher power or universal spirit.
There needs to be a designation between different types of atheists, just like are for different types of Christians. Other examples for designating different types of atheists are the terms militant atheists, passive atheists, and atheist evangelicals, to name just a few.
Many of them likely do simply reject religion, and that is why they call themselves atheists. Remember that the definition of an atheist doesn’t only apply to those who reject Gods, it also applies to those who reject religion. Some Christians feel that other Christians are also confused since they don’t actually follow Christianity, yet they call themselves Christians. The atheists who believe in a higher power are deistic atheists, labeled as such to differentiate them from the atheists who aren’t.
Sam Harris wrote a recent article in which he asserted that atheists who believe in God aren’t really atheists. Whether other atheists like it or not, there are many atheists who believe in some type of deity or higher power. Of course you don’t consider them atheists, nor would many other atheists. But they consider themselves atheists, and they call themselves atheists. Keep in mind that many other atheists wouldn’t consider Sam a “real” atheist, based upon his views of death, consciousness, mysticism, and spirituality.
The definition of the word atheist isn’t strictly confined to an acknowledgment of the nonexistence of Gods. It also is defined, as the word itself implies, as the rejection of theism.
Atheists like Sam Harris who say other atheists aren’t really atheists remind me of Christians who say some other Christians aren’t really Christians, for various reasons.
These atheists who believe in God, a higher power, or some other form of a deity, or who are open to an afterlife don’t believe the same things as many other atheists, but they still call themselves atheists, just like the Christians whom not everyone agrees are Christians call themselves Christians. Many of them most likely call themselves atheists because they are opposed to theology, and are associated themselves with that opinion by correctly identifying themselves with a label which most accurately describes that stance: Atheist. Question them if you want, make fun of them if you want, but you have no other option but to take them at their word when they say they are an atheist. And when the polls are taken, they are counted as atheists.