Defining Atheism

American-AtheistsIn a discussion, one of the most important things we can do is to properlydefine our terms. And this is incredibly true in the case of atheism, and how we’re defining atheism.

I will explain why I believe that defining atheism as “a lack of belief in god(s)” is inadequate… but first, some history.

(As originally stated by @PhilLOSTophy):
“It started in the debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Coppleston, where Russell was forced into claiming agnosticism and rejecting atheism, in a now famous debate. This shocked the skeptical philosophical community and Russell had to backtrack. Then along came Antony Flew who argued that the prefix ‘a’ in atheism meant ‘without’ belief in God, and this allowed him to disguise himself as an atheist while really holding to agnosticism. This meant that he could sit back, not defend his ‘position’ and pick apart the arguments of his opponents. Flew was brilliant, but this is underhanded and defining your terms to achieve this end has to become a new fallacy.”

In the words of Flew himself:
“the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence … of God … But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in … words as ‘amoral’ … . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.” (Quote taken from Reasonable Faith)

This definition of atheism; as a “lack of belief in god(s)” (as many “new atheists” put it) is not accepted everywhere, however.

So it would seem that the atheist, in order to a move a conversation forward, must provide an adequate and usable definition of atheism.

I’m not here to say that all atheists who define atheism as a “lack of belief” are doing so in order to remove all burden of proof. I am notoriously bad at attaching motivations to people’s actions.
I am merely looking for accuracy in the way that we use our words. It is a bit of a pragmatic concern, in a way.

I believe that atheism should not be defined as a “lack of belief in god(s)” for the following reasons:

  • Atheism, by this definition, is not a statement about reality; it is a statement about the person’s individual psychological state. This is problematic because individual psychological don’t change the truth about any subject (other than the truth about their own psychological state, of course).
  • Atheism, by this definition, is compatible with theism. Someone can “lack a belief in God” even if God exists.
  • Atheism, by this definition, has no more reasoning behind it than the beliefs (or lack thereof) of a baby or a chipmunk. I know that many atheists have thought deeply about their beliefs, and to belittle themselves in such a way is unbecoming of even the most uninformed self-proclaimed atheist. Why would someone want to trivialize their own position like this?

It might be my inner analytic philosopher, but it seems that if we define atheism as “a lack of belief in god(s)”, it does more harm than good.

(this is a continuation of a conversation originally started on twitter between myself (@ElijiahT), @PhilLOSTophy, @XAtheist and @Chainsaw_McGinn.

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55 thoughts on “Defining Atheism

  1. MeesterGibson

    Atheism is the tabula rasa position, so it makes sense that it is the thinking of a baby. Someone who hasn’t been lied to about reality is going to be an atheist. As opposed to someone indoctrinated with concepts of immaterial beings and realities will not be able to access atheism as a position without careful deconstructing of their core beliefs.

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      To summarize your comment:
      “Atheism requires no thought. Religious people have been lied to and indoctrinated”.

      Well, I’m glad you’re ok with atheism being defined as “the position that requires no thought on the matter”

      Reply
      1. Allallt

        Oh no, that’s not what I said. And you’re not listening to all I say. If you wanna know if He loves you so, it’s in its kiss.
        Cher should not invalidate your point.

      2. MeesterGibson

        Atheism is the honest starting point. Not that it requires no thought, but when presented with the material world their is nothing to suggest an appeal to something outside of it is necessary.

      3. Atomic Mutant

        Surprisingly, I think, that is correct. Atheism does not require any thought, just a lack of belief. WHY you lack belief is completely up to you. One could be a hardcore skeptic, for example, or a strong atheist – but as easily, you could simply be a chinese guy, who was never taught he needs to belief in a god, thus lacking that belief, but never actively thinking about it. Calling your self Atheist only tells people that you don’t believe. For everything else, you would need additional labels…

  2. unkleE

    I agree with you. Most atheists I have met have stronger disbelief in God than the statement “I lack a belief in God” suggests. For example, would they also say “I lack a disbelief in God”?

    If they wouldn’t then, their disbelief is stronger than their belief. If they would, then why do the argue so much against belief in God, and so little against disbelief?

    So I think it is an unhelpful definition.

    Reply
  3. Atomic Mutant

    Definitions are not there to do good or bad. So, yes, atheism is simply the lack of simply and it’s good that way, because otherwise you go on the same level as theists, which is what I don’t want.

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      “… atheism is simply the lack of simply and it’s good that way, because otherwise you go on the same level as theists, which is what I don’t want.”

      Go on the same level?
      As in having a burden of proof?

      Reply
      1. Atomic Mutant

        As in having a belief instead of lacking it. I find god highly unlikely (and completely unnecessary to explain anything), but of course, as the idea is not falsifiable, I cannot disprove it. But I can’t disprove fairies or invisible pink unicorns, either, so I’m pretty content to to think that absence of evidence is enough to assume (albeit not prove) absence.

        In my case, atheism was simply what I was. I thought about it one day and realized, that I really don’t believe the whole god thing. Simple as that. It was no earth shattering moment, ending in “…thus no god.”, just the simple realization, that the feeling of belief was not there, probably never has been. Of course, that was only a starting point and when finding out more about the topic, I came to the conclusion, that every specific god was highly unlikely (as well as unnecessary), but I already was an atheist then.

      2. Elijiah Post author

        Hey Atomic,

        (purely for the sake of argument… this isn’t my real position)
        If I were to tell you that I “lack a belief” in the big bang, how would you respond?
        My position is not that I believe the big bang didn’t happen, its just that I lack a belief in the big bang.

        Keep in mind that this isn’t a claim about reality, its a claim about my state of mind.
        Its also not a positive claim, nor is it a negative claim. It’s a claim that requires nothing on my part, except a lack of belief.
        On top of that, my lack of belief is perfectly compatible with the big bang being true.

        Where would you go from there?

  4. Allallt

    Problem one: the stanford dictionary uses the word “negates”. This word means that if you don’t accept one proposition, you must accept its opposite. Therefore, if I am without belief in God I must believe God does not exist. There is no room for agnosticism in this definition.
    Secondly, “not believing” is not the same as “believing not”. So the internet encyclopedia of philosophy also doesn’t do away with Flew’s definition of atheism.
    Thirdly, atheism is not compatible with theism. Both theism and atheism relate to belief, and if you are one you cannot be another (theism is also a state of the mind–it is the state of “I believe this claim”). The existence of God is compatible with atheism (in the same way there are flat earth theorists). But, vice a versa, theism is compatible with a secular world. In the way people believe in vampires and zombies.
    Lastly, I am not convinced by your claim. That is my position. The theist claim has holes and paradoxes and fallacies and outright falsehoods in it, and I can’t accept it. End of.

    (And I am an atheist.)

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      So how do you define atheism?
      As “a lack of belief in god”, or “the belief that god does not exist” or maybe in some other way?

      Reply
      1. Allallt

        Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. That incorporates everyone from the default position of ‘I don’t accept your claim’ to ‘I believe there are no gods’. I am the former, I don’t accept your claim.

      2. Elijiah Post author

        Still haven’t figured out how to reply directly to your comment, Allallt (the reply button isn’t on your comment, but mine)… so I’m hoping responding to my own comment will put mine below yours.

        I have 2 questions for you.

        First, how do you respond to the criticisms of that definition (that atheism is a lack of belief in god(s)) that I described in the OP?
        And second… does God exist?

      3. Allallt

        I am repeating your reply method. Hope all goes well.
        All my responses are above: one definition agnosticism by its use of ‘negates’–for an encyclopaedia of philosophy, that is just sloppy, but the important point is that it forces you into a ‘gnostic’ camp (I.e. that you have to make the claim that God either does or does not exist). The other definition is perfectly compatible with Flew’s definition because it says ‘not believe’, which is not the same as ‘believe not’.
        People believe in the existence of things that are not there: unicorns, Santa Claus, ghosts, vampires, zombies, alien-lizards that are in control of the world’s political system (I gave many examples because I cannot prove the non-existence of these things, so I hoped you’d agree with at least one of these so that I can illuminate my point). So theism is compatible with a world where it is true that God does not exist–that isn’t a challenge to the belief.
        Equally, saying atheism is not a claim about the world doesn’t invalidate the position, it merely reiterates exactly my stance: I am not a theist.
        It is true that you can have what I call ‘naive atheism’ (I call it that in a post I wrote on a different blog hosted by ‘Gamma Atheist’, I can hunt you the link if you want). But I know why I don’t accept the claims of evidence given to me, it is my assumption that a chipmunk as never had the claims of a god presented to it in a meaningful way (I.e. in its own language), and therefore has no immediate reasoning behind why it doesn’t accept a claim. The point is like saying I have no more reason to lack a belief in fairies than a baby or a chipmunk, which may well be true, but doesn’t deal with the rationality of a claim. You have no more reason to doubt the existence of the jnudingai than a baby, but I bet you don’t feel silly not believing in it.

        Lastly, I have never been presented with convincing reasons to believe in a god. I cannot sincerely make a confident claim about the existence of God (in Its more generic sense) but I don’t believe.

      4. Elijiah Post author

        Allallt,

        I want to pick on one thing you said.

        You said this:
        “ So theism is compatible with a world where it is true that God does not exist”

        Here is the point where I think we’re getting things mixed up.
        The belief that theism is true is compatible with a world where God does not exist, no one is contesting that. Many people believe false things.
        But my claim (as per atheism) is not that an atheistic belief is compatible with the truth of theism, but that atheism is compatible with a world where God’s existence is reality. And it seems to me to be a very strange world where God’s existence is true and atheism is true.
        They seem to be mutually exclusive concepts.
        Either atheism is true and God does not exist, or atheism is false and God exists.

        Which leads me to the primary reason I wrote this post…
        On your view, can you say, “Atheism is true”?

        Theism is a claim about reality; namely… that God exists.
        Atheism, on this definition, is not a claim about reality at all. It is a claim about someone’s beliefs, and that’s it. So defining atheism in this way makes it entirely unfalsifiable, because it is neither true nor false… it is just a label put on someone’s lack of thought on an issue.

        In the end, I’d like to know your answers on two questions.
        1. Is atheism true?
        2. Does God exist?

  5. X Atheist

    First, thanks for setting this up. If this were on Twitter I’ve already run out of characters.

    All of the definitions you’ve provided are spot on. They all say the same thing, using different semantics. Atheism is a lack of belief in a god. A concept I struggled with when I was under the haze of Catholicism is “not believing is not the same as believing not.” I found it difficult to stretch my consciousness and wrap my head around that concept before I embraced atheism, but now it makes complete sense to me, so at the risk of being presumptuous, I’m going to assume someone reading this doesn’t fully understand what that means and explain it in a way that would have been helpful to me when I was trying to comprehend it.

    You say there is a god. I say I don’t believe you. That’s atheism. If I were to say “I believe there is NO god,” that is separate from atheism…that’s nihilism.

    Same as if I were to say “I have a Porsche.” You may say “I don’t believe you.” You’re not saying “I believe you do NOT own a Porsche,” you just need me to demonstrate that I have one. If I were to pull up into your driveway in a Porsche and show you my registration, you would quickly change your statement to “I believe you have a Porsche” or more fitting, “I KNOW you have a Porsche because I have reviewed the evidence.”

    As theists, what you are doing is saying “I believe there is a god.” As atheists, we are waiting to see the figurative registration. In over two thousands years, a god has yet to pull into our figurative driveway.

    So, to make a statement like “if atheism is true” is not valid and makes no sense. Atheism claims nothing, it reserves judgment in the face of no evidence.

    Now I know someone out there is thinking “so why are atheists so vocal on Twitter and the internet if it’s simply a lack of belief?”

    To rationalize this you must first understand that atheism is a foundation, not a house. On top of that foundation, you can be an antitheist, a nihilist, a Liberal, a Republican, an agnostic, or any combination of things. Being an atheist says nothing of your politics, of your acceptance of other individual’s rights to practice their own faith. I have met atheists that were in favor of gun control, and I have met atheists who want MORE gun rights. I think you get the picture…

    So, when you find an atheist sounding off on Twitter about how religion is silly and has no place in society, it isn’t because they’re an atheist, it’s because they are an antitheist.

    Antitheism is a (somewhat) falsiafiable worldview, at least in as much as theism is. Antitheism takes the view that there is no god and to suggest one is irrational. That’s a claim — the claim is that there is no god. It requires evidence to become a truth just as theism does. When you say “atheism is a belief,” what you should really be saying is “antitheism is a belief,” and if you said that you would be absolutely correct.

    I think I will stop there for now since I’m at work, but will look forward to continuing this discussion.

    Reply
    1. phillost

      Clearly you have no idea what Nihilism is X. Nihilism is the worldview that everything is devoid of meaning and value. It comes from the same root as the word annihilate, which is to make something become nothing. To even try and pass off Nihilism as atheism shows your lack of understanding of Nihilism and where you are as far as philosophy goes; at the very beginning.
      You say the definitions are spot on and semantics, which is also an odd statement to make and I’m not sure if you think that since becoming an atheist you think your mind has been opened in some sort of freedom, but that I think is something I would need to you to back up with actual research. That atheism helps you think. Seems to be a claim made by a lot of atheists.
      As for myself, I fully understand the difference in saying “I believe there is no God” and “I do not believe there is a God”. I am also the one who introduced Flew’s argument for the redefinition of the word into this conversation, that is the argument you guys piggyback on and yet don’t seem to realize that for thousands of years atheism has *always* been defined as the belief or proposition that God does not exist. As a matter of fact, I invite you to do a survey at a public library in Toronto (pick the largest one) of all the dictionaries and encyclopedias printed before the rise of internet atheism (even hit used books stores) and you’ll see that atheism is clearly defined as I and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy define it. Not semantically, but straight to the point. The point I am making, that not one response to this blog post has attempted to touch the etymology of the word in modern times that I presented, which I believe I show the dubious reasons as to why this redefinition has been attempted.
      Let me bring another argument into this. When, in all of your life, have you ever said “I lack belief” about anything. I have to tell you, at no point, in all my 32 years on this planet, have I *ever*, once heard that phrase uttered until I asked a group of atheists in an online forum the reason why they were atheists. They gave me nothing. Not one reason, instead they all told me they lacked belief. I had never even heard of this. I was only being introduced to philosophy at the time, but it made me realize something: they have no reason, what-so-ever, to believe that God does not exist. Why is the ‘lacking of belief’ not an everyday expression? Why don’t you just admit that you don’t know and then we can all call you an Agnostic, which is the real name for the psychological state you find yourself in (unless of course you say you are the type of Agnostic that makes the claim that one can never know if God exists).
      When you say: “You say there is a god. I say I don’t believe you. That’s atheism.” you have now really pushed atheism into some strange territory. We’re talking some weird stuff. You are no longer defining atheism as a ‘lack of belief’, you are defining atheism as a psychological state in regards to my belief. What? We’re not talking about my belief, we are talking about the proposition “there is a God”. Just because you don’t believe me tells me nothing about the existence of God. It could be very well that you are a Muslim, a Hindu or a Deepak Chopratist. As a matter of fact, you could say that under this definition, it follows that to a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu are actually atheists! That’s crazy!
      When you say:”So, to make a statement like “if atheism is true” is not valid and makes no sense. Atheism claims nothing, it reserves judgment in the face of no evidence.” I say that atheism itself, as the way you describe it, is epistemologically impossible, and logically incoherent as a theist cannot be a theist and an atheist at the same time. It is logically impossible because it is self-contradictory.
      When you say:”To rationalize this you must first understand that atheism is a foundation, not a house.” No, you have to understand that in epistimology, the ‘foundation to your house’ are beliefs! This shows the absolute silliness of this. As for why atheists are vocal, I don’t care, I just wish they would try giving an argument, anything instead of pretending to be agnostic (which some agnostics will give a arguments).
      When you say: “So, when you find an atheist sounding off on Twitter about how religion is silly and has no place in society, it isn’t because they’re an atheist, it’s because they are an antitheist.” you don’t seem to realize that religion and belief in God are not mutually inclusive. All theists believe in a God or gods, not all theists hold to a religion, as a matter of fact, there is a massive percentage of people who believe in God, but are completely secular. So if we flip the argument that the prefix ‘a’ in atheist means without, then the prefix ‘anti’ meaning against, combined with the suffix ‘theist’ meaning belief in God, then the antitheist is not against religion, but is against belief in God. This also means that this antitheist is not making a claim about the existence of God at all, but only that they are in open opposition against anyone who believes in God. Probably best they just keep that one to themselves, but hey, whatever floats their.
      Anyway, I personally could care less about this ‘lack of belief’ debate for the most part. The only reason why I ever chime in my two cents is because I find it intellectually dishonest. Clearly there is a belief there, and it is that God does not exist and that’s what bothers me about it. You guys are more then happy to sit back and throw rocks from your balcony as we who walk this difficult road of philosophical reflection pass by. You guys just don’t have anything to offer in way of the existence of God. It’s philosophically boring. Yawn inspiring. But the best part, is that anyone with any kind of good sense can smell the BS that is piled over top of the belief that is atheism. The belief that God does not exist.
      You’re not going to engage us in debate, you are only engaging us in a critique of our arguments. That’s fine. I’ll leave it to Elijah to start it off and then I will weigh in, when I feel I have something to contribute. But I have to ask you, when the dust settles and all you objections are answered, what keeps you being an atheist?

      Reply
      1. xatheistx

        Where did I try to pass of nihilism as atheism? It was the original poster trying to pass of atheism as nihilism. And it seems to me that an increasing number of theists, on the internet and in my real life experiences, do the same. Atheists are accused of believing in nothing (I’m sure you’ve heard the “nothing exploded from nothing” debates), having no moral compass, etc.

        Definition of nihilism
        noun
        [mass noun]
        the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
        Philosophy the belief that nothing in the world has a real existence.
        historical the doctrine of an extreme Russian revolutionary party circa 1900 which found nothing to approve of in the established social order.

        Where did I say atheism helps me think? I would argue that religion restricts your ability to have a truly open mind and if you want proof, I would submit your post as Exhibit A. Let’s delve deeper.

        Here is the wonderful thing about critical thinking. Your views can change on the basis of new evidence and a new understanding of the world. Not long ago, we believed the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth. People believed in witches, magic, human sacrifice (still do in some parts of the world)…I could go on and on. But aside from a few ignorant people, how many actually still believe the earth is still flat? How many still believe the sun revolved around the earth, in witches, magic, human sacrifice? If you did believe in these things, you would have no credibility.

        So what if a dictionary defined atheism as something other than what it actually is in previous editions? Obviously those dictionaries were wrong, and have since corrected themselves. If you’re going to cling to past definitions and previous flawed understandings of the world and the universe, then your arguments are going to be just as flawed and misinformed.

        In your 32 years on this planet, you may not have heard someone say “I lack belief in god,” but you’ve heard them say “I don’t believe in god.” Probably far more frequently than you’ve heard “I believe there is NO god.” You are trying to redefine words and twist and overcomplicate a simple concept to support your argument — the same thing, by the way, William Lane Craig does. From there you can go any direction you want and make it sound credible, but the reality is your arguments are flawed from the very foundation (there’s that word again), making everything you say after it completely invalid. Same problem with religion. You can study theology until your brain explodes but until you prove there’s a god in the first place it means nothing.

        As for agnosticism, you are right — most atheists are of the agnostic variety. Agnostic atheists. That is to say, we don’t believe there is a god, we are not ruling it out on the basis that we cannot prove there ISN’T a god, but we find it extremely improbably that there IS.

        Here is my favorite statement from your post:

        “As a matter of fact, you could say that under this definition, it follows that to a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu are actually atheists! That’s crazy!”

        You are 100% correct. Muslims are atheists when it comes to Christianity. Assuming you don’t believe in Allah, you are an atheist when it comes to Islam. I would venture to wage you are not a believer in Thor, Zeus, Wotin, Mithra, Krishna, Osiris, or the hundreds of thousands of other gods that have been believed in by people is parts of the world throughout human history. Guess what? You’re an atheist when it comes to all of those too. We just go one god further.

        As for not making an argument, I would suggest you do a little more digging. By the way, “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Evolution is as real as gravity. So I know, based of mounds of scientific evidence and peer reviews, how we evolved into human beings. I’m not a biologist, so I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, but I find it far more convincing than a book that says we were created out of dirt and a rib.

        We do not yet have the answers as to how exactly the universe came into existence, and don’t pretend that you do either. But with each passing day we are discovering new things about the universe and our understanding of it is expanding. I believe that one day we will find the answer, and I find it very improbably that any “god” will have anything to do with whatever that answer is.

        You end your post by doing what anyone incapable of proving the existence of god and thereby justifying their beliefs would do — shift the burden of proof. Instead of redefining the word “atheist” and tearing down straw men, and then asking why I’m an atheist, why not show me proof that there is a god, collect your Nobel prize and watch me change my stance accordingly. You can’t. At most, what you can do is tell me to “look around at the trees and the sky and the human eye,” or subscribe the the “god of the gaps,” or attempt to use a snippet of scripture to prove god is real, not realizing the Bible is the claim, not the evidence. In other two thousand years, no convincing evidence has surfaced that god exists.

        That’s why I’m an atheist. Now, why are you a theist?

      2. Elijiah Post author

        XaX,

        First off, I’m really not a big fan of long, drawn-out responses (on my end), so I tend not to respond to everything. I tend to respond to the things that I see as the most important, otherwise we end up both writing and reading a book by the end of the discussion.
        That being said, I’ll keep this short and sweet. If I left something out that you thought was important, I’m all for discussing it. I just… really don’t like doing the point-for-point kind of replies.

        I am confused by the way you’re characterizing atheism and antitheism.

        *Atheism*
        I understand that there are at least 3 ways to characterize atheism. Put in proposition form, an atheist could say, (1) “I believe that God does not exist”, (2) “I do not believe that God exists” & (3) “I lack a belief in God”.
        The 3rd one was the reason I wrote this post. I have several real problems with it, in addition to the fact that it tends to halt conversation.
        Do you define atheism by either (1) or (2)? If not, how do you define it?

        *Antitheism*
        As Phil has already pointed out, antitheism can be broken down into etymology.
        The prefix “anti-” means “opposed to, against”.
        Theism is the belief in the existence of god(s).
        So antitheism would be opposition to belief in the existence of god(s). It is a position more than a belief, it would seem.
        For example, I am a theist. But that doesn’t mean I am necessarily actively an anti-atheist. I believe theism is true, so I believe those who hold to atheism (however we’re defining it) are incorrect. But to be an anti-atheist would be a position that I hold; a way of interacting with other people.

        I’d like to know your thoughts on that. Thanks!
        And thanks for coming over here to discuss it… there are many people on twitter who apparently would rather limit themselves to <140 characters when answering questions like this (and I think that's silly).

      3. X Atheist

        Elijah…

        I’m with you, I’m finding it too easy to write a book, haha. But I will quote you on one thing.

        “(1) “I believe that God does not exist”, (2) “I do not believe that God exists” & (3) “I lack a belief in God”.”

        I think 2 and 3 are the exact same thing, unless I’m missing something. It says the same thing using different words. So, I am number 2/3. I do not believe in any god, and I therefore lack a belief in god. I also therefore do not believe in any religion. If the word “adeist” existed, I would be that. However, if there were any falsifiable evidence that proved that there was a god, I would adjust my stance accordingly but you would then still have all of your work ahead of you to prove that Christianity, or any organized religion at all, is correct and necessary.

        As for your assessment on anti-theism, I agree with you. It is a position, just as “anti-atheism” would be. I am not sure if I would consider myself an antitheist or not — if I am, I am a fairly moderate one at best. I think religion should be a private belief — that is to say, it should not have any place in government, should not be printed on money, should not have tax privileges, should not have any bearing at all in the ways our society functions. However, as long as people are practicing their beliefs privately and not attempting to “convert” and change other people’s beliefs or non-beliefs, I have no problem with it. Unfortunately for me, part of what motivates me to be more outspoken about these issues than most atheists who simply don’t care, is that I have an extremely religious family that is very “in your face” about Catholicism and look down on me for not sharing their beliefs. Twitter and the online atheist community is a support system that reminds me I’m not alone in this way of thinking.

        Don’t get me wrong — I WANT to believe there is a god watching over us with a divine plan. I WANT to believe there is a place called Heaven that we go to after we die if we’ve been good and live for all eternity. But wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true, as I’m sure you would agree. And so far, I’ve been wholly unconvinced because none of it makes any sense. That’s the other part that motivates me to be so outspoken. I’m waiting for someone to show me that god exists.

      4. Elijiah Post author

        X Atheist,

        The main reason that I wrote this post was to try to explain why I thought it was unhelpful (at best) to define atheism as a lack of belief.

        At this point, I’m wondering… why would you want to say that you “lack a belief in god”, rather than saying “I do not believe that God exists”?
        It seems to me that if we’re trying to be accurate with our communication, “lacking a belief” is considerably more confusing than just saying “I do not believe God exists”.

        From my perspective, I’d like to continue the conversation PAST the definition of atheism (other than in a conversation about the definition of atheism, of course) and onto the discussion about whether or not God exists.
        So typically, when someone states their beliefs in [whatever topic], I’ll typically ask, “why?”

        But when it comes to atheism:
        – If you do not believe God exists… I could ask, “why don’t you believe God exists?”
        – If you lack a belief in god, it seems strange to ask, “why do you lack a belief in God?”

        In the first instance, we’re talking about the existence of God, and you could give me reasons for not believing in God.
        In the second, we’re talking about your personal psychology, and to ask “why” seems nonsensical. You just lack a belief.

        So, in an attempt to move the conversation forward, I would REALLY like it if people would make some kind of claim about reality.
        I could give you all the evidence in the world for God’s existence, and that might never change your personal psychology. But it would change your perspective on reality.

        I hope I’m making sense.
        If, at the end of the day, my objection to defining atheism in this way is purely pragmatic… I think I’m ok with that.

    2. X Atheist

      I can agree with that, Elijah. We can define atheism as “not believing in god.” As for ‘why,’ it’s because there is no repeatable, empirical, falsifiable evidence.

      Reply
  6. ironapologist

    Great post! And excellent comment by X Atheist. The foundation analogy is a new concept to me but makes complete sense! I feel as if antitheists occasionally have a tendency to go by the title of “atheist” to resist the burden of proof. I think that the definition of both terms, “atheism” and “antitheism,” need to be better defined and understood by the general public.

    Reply
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  8. MeesterGibson

    Just been reading George H.Smith’s ATHEISM: The Case Against God that sheds some light on the folly of this post.

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      That sounds like an interesting thing.
      Because if there is a “case against god”, then that would seem to imply reasons to believe that God does not exist… which would mean that atheism would be the belief that god doesn’t exist.

      But I don’t want to jump the gun.
      What light can be shed on the folly of this post? I’m open to changing my mind.

      Reply
  9. aaron

    I don’t know what I should be called, all I know is I follow the evidence which I think strongly points to evolution. No evidence of god or supreme being whatsoever. Am I an atheist??

    Reply
    1. phillost

      OK, So does evolution mean that God does not exist? Seems completely inline with an Omniscient Being. The Naturalist presuppositions is also not a scientific claim, it’s a philosophical one.

      You say there is no evidence for a Supreme Being, but this is bit of strange claim isn’t it? I mean, let’s think about this for a minute. God in any monotheistic religion is thought to be the Creator of the universe, which means that one would expect to find that the universe had a beginning, yes? So the fact that we now know that the universe had a beginning *is* evidence of a Creator. So is there evidence? Yes.

      Reply
      1. MeesterGibson

        Evolution simply means that god is unnecessary, not that god does or doesn’t exist. Naturalism isn’t a presupposition as you incorrectly stated. The natural order is all that has ever manifested itself. If you’re saying the natural order is proof of god, without actually showing any evidence of a god, then you’re appealing to a god who exists only in the mind of believers. Things that exist tend to exist, as in things that exist have actual evidence of their existing. If you say things like does love exist? You’re further aligning with the position that god is an idea, and not able to be demonstrated to exist. The very idea that one has to interpret god differently,as understanding increases, is a frank statement about the nature of the beast. Your god exists merely because you want it to.

      2. Elijiah Post author

        I think an important thing for us to remember (and Phil, you made this point) is that evolution can be 100% true and it really wouldn’t change the truth claims of Christianity.

        And unlike what MeesterGibson said, evolution being true doesn’t make God unnecessary. That seems like a bit of a strange way to think about it, so I’ll explain a little further.
        Evolutionary biology is the study of how populations change over time. If we assume that universal common descent is true (and even if we assume that it was non-teleological), does this change anything about the central claims of Christianity (Namely… that God exists, we are sinners in need of a savior and that Christ died and rose again to accomplish the purpose of reconciling us with God)?
        I don’t think evolution changes any of that.

        Plus, if you look at the arguments against Darwinism (universal common descent via an non-teleological, natural mechanism), none of the _good_ones_ (yes, there are bad arguments against evolution) are arguing that God did it. Its merely skepticism of the evolutionary mechanism.
        And if you look at the arguments for an intelligent designer, none of them conclude with “therefore God exists”. They’re arguments from the scientific evidence that point to the existence of a designer of life. The identity of that designer is unknowable from a scientific perspective (its a problem of scientific epistemology… we can only go so far), so to conclude that “therefore God exists” from an ID argument would be a non-sequitur.

        ** pragmatic side note **
        One of my favorite aspects of Christian theism is that it allows us to follow the evidence where it leads. If there are reasons to doubt Darwinism, we can! On a materialistic viewpoint, they’re unable to do that. Evolution must be true, and it can not be guided in any way.
        ** pragmatic side note complete **

        And lastly, evolution doesn’t make god unnecessary anyway. After all, if we grant the entire evolutionary story, we still have….
        – The cosmological arguments
        – The moral argument
        – The teleological argument (fine tuning of the cosmos)
        – The historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ
        – … and many others, including the full coherence of the Christian worldview.

        So I encourage anyone to look into the evidence for Darwinism. Look into the evidence against it. Do the work of studying the topic, but don’t just conclude that Darwinism must be true, therefore God either doesn’t exist or is irrelevant.

      3. MeesterGibson

        I didn’t mean to say that evolution being true makes god unnecessary. I simply note that evolution could be true without an appeal to a god. Universal common descent being true would mean that the Adam and Eve story isn’t real and since it is the beginning of the central claim of christianity , it is at this point that the story unravels.

        The cosmological argument for the existence of god seems to “jump the gun” as is presupposes that we have enough certainty about the makeup of the universe to say definitively that the universe requires a creator. As we know so little about the universe an appeal to the little we do know as an argument for god seems contrived. I mean the idea that we can talk intelligently about what is required of the universe when we don’t even know what makes up the majority of the universe would seem a bit of a stretch no?

        The moral argument is hollow because it rests on an idea of absolute moral values, which seem real in theory but in practical terms we cannot demonstrate that them to be real. Not to mention the discussion WLC had with Kagan seems to dispute heavily divine command theory.

        The teleological argument is not an argument for god .

        The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, proves just as easily that a cult was started by liars as much as it proves the miracle claims made by the bible.

        Lastly the utter incoherence of christian theism is by it’s nature it’s greatest point of defense as it can be stretched to allow for almost anything, as well as a voice for anything. The unfalsifiability of christian theism should be obvious as well as alarming.

      4. Elijiah Post author

        Meester,

        Due to the fact that this is a post on the definition of atheism itself, I don’t really want to delve too deeply into the conversation topics that could be (and have been) made into books.

        For that reason, I’m not going to address the cosmological, moral, teleological or resurrection arguments here.
        Each one of your comments could be made into entire posts by themselves.

        Your paragraph on “… the utter incoherence of Christian theism” is not really anything substantial. Just replace “Christian theism” with “atheism” in those 2 spots, and you’ll see what I mean.

        “… the utter incoherence of [atheism] is by it’s nature it’s greatest point of defense as it can be stretched to allow for almost anything, as well as a voice for anything. The unfalsifiability of [atheism] should be obvious as well as alarming.

        For your questions on the existence of a historical adam and eve and how it would impact Christian theism… there has been a lot of work done on this, and its not exactly new.
        The goal of biblical hermeneutics is to understand the bible based on its historical context. We need to understand how the book (in this case, genesis) was written and understood for the original audience.

        Saying something like, “ Universal common descent being true would mean that the Adam and Eve story isn’t real and since it is the beginning of the central claim of christianity , it is at this point that the story unravels.”

        … this is a very naïve way of approaching a text that is ~4000 years old, written in a different language and to a different culture.
        http://biologos.org/resources/multimedia/nt-wright-on-adam-and-eve

        I am not a theistic evolutionist, but if the evidence pointed towards that, only certain fundamentalistic-types of Christian beliefs would be shaken.

        And I know, you think this means that Christian theism is unfalsifiable. But it doesn’t. If Christ did not rise from the dead, that would falsify Christianity.

        1 Corinthians 15:12-19

        Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

      5. MeesterGibson

        Elijiah,
        You’re perpetually equivocating on the actual definition of atheism, is this intentional or no? You see you’ve defined atheism in such a way as to attack it like one would approach theism. Only since it doesn’t cover the same ground that theism does you’re simply talking our of turn.

        Also, I love how your interpretation of the Genesis account is correct and mine- informed by the majority of christian opinion, is naive. I’m simply repeating what is being pervasively taught about the Genesis account, so if I’m naive so be it, but so is the majority of Christendom.

        Lastly, let me ask, is there any way that someone could prove to you that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?

  10. phillost

    Where did I try to pass of nihilism as atheism? It was the original poster trying to pass of atheism as nihilism.

    Here: “If I were to say “I believe there is NO god,” that is separate from atheism…that’s nihilism”

    ***This is not Nihilism, this is the classical definition of atheism before it’s recent redefinition by Flew and legions internet atheists to put themselves in a position where they don’t have to support their beliefs.

    And it seems to me that an increasing number of theists, on the internet and in my real life experiences, do the same. Atheists are accused of believing in nothing (I’m sure you’ve heard the “nothing exploded from nothing” debates), having no moral compass, etc.

    ***This is the definition of Nihilism as per the IEP:
    Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. 
    I don’t for a minute think that you are being represented in this manner, and I think you are the one who is misrepresenting Nihilism.

    Definition of nihilism
    noun
    [mass noun]
    the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
    Philosophy the belief that nothing in the world has a real existence.
    historical the doctrine of an extreme Russian revolutionary party circa 1900 which found nothing to approve of in the established social order.

    ***You should really reference philosophy orientated encyclopedias if you want to get a definition of a philosophical position. For example, the second part of that definition is actually solipsism, not nihilism. As for the first part of your definition, a Nihilist wouldn’t just reject religious and moral principles, they reject literally everything, that nothing can be known, like sciencentific truths, do you think theists represent atheists as rejecting scientific truths?

    Where did I say atheism helps me think? I would argue that religion restricts your ability to have a truly open mind and if you want proof, I would submit your post as Exhibit A.

    ***Well for starters you just said it. But seeing as how you need me to show you where you said it in your post:
     “A concept I struggled with when I was under the haze of Catholicism is “not believing is not the same as believing not.” I found it difficult to stretch my consciousness and wrap my head around that concept before I embraced atheism “

    As for your submission of my post all I have to say is I sure am glad I’m a Socrates and not a Sophist. Give me some data and not a bunch of rhetoric.

    Let’s delve deeper.
    Here is the wonderful thing about critical thinking. Your views can change on the basis of new evidence and a new understanding of the world.

    ***And I would love for you to actually present some.

    So what if a dictionary defined atheism as something other than what it actually is in previous editions? Obviously those dictionaries were wrong, and have since corrected themselves. If you’re going to cling to past definitions and previous flawed understandings of the world and the universe, then your arguments are going to be just as flawed and misinformed.

    ***No one is saying that dictionaries are infallible. However, when Bertrand Russell, the GRANDFATHER OF ATHEISM concedes to being an agnostic, because he was adhering to the same definition in which I and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy have presented you, then we have something. Do you think Bertrand Russell didn’t understand what atheism was? Was he incompetent? Do you think you have a better grasp of atheism then he? I highly doubt that. Also, why is that you guys only ever started kicking a stink up about this until AFTER Flew’s argument surfaced? Or really, after internet debating started?

    In your 32 years on this planet, you may not have heard someone say “I lack belief in god,” but you’ve heard them say “I don’t believe in god.”

    ***Strawman, I have never heard someone say “I lack belief” for anything at anytime, ever.

    Probably far more frequently than you’ve heard “I believe there is NO god.” You are trying to redefine words and twist and overcomplicate a simple concept to support your argument — the same thing, by the way, William Lane Craig does.

    ***I’m trying to overcomplicate things? Really? You don’t think that redefining a word that had a well established definition for thousands of years isn’t overcomplicating things? You have a very odd idea of who is overcomplicating what. Not only that, you are the one who is twisting a simple concept to support your argument! How simple is the concept to understand that atheism is the belief or propsition that God does not exist? Also, why are you bringing William Lane Craig into this? Who was talking about him?

    From there you can go any direction you want and make it sound credible, but the reality is your arguments are flawed from the very foundation (there’s that word again), making everything you say after it completely invalid. Same problem with religion. You can study theology until your brain explodes but until you prove there’s a god in the first place it means nothing.

    ***Actually, the only direction I took this was it’s logical end. What it really sounds like is that you don’t know how to address them, and your pride is wounded. This is a tell-tale sign of having one’s argument knocked down.

    As for agnosticism, you are right — most atheists are of the agnostic variety. Agnostic atheists. That is to say, we don’t believe there is a god, we are not ruling it out on the basis that we cannot prove there ISN’T a god, but we find it extremely improbably that there IS.

    ***Hey, I can do that too! I’m an agnostic, atheistic, theist. Which according to you, I can actually be!

    Here is my favorite statement from your post:
    “As a matter of fact, you could say that under this definition, it follows that to a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu are actually atheists! That’s crazy!”
    You are 100% correct.

    ***LOL!

    Muslims are atheists when it comes to Christianity. Assuming you don’t believe in Allah, you are an atheist when it comes to Islam. I would venture to wage you are not a believer in Thor, Zeus, Wotin, Mithra, Krishna, Osiris, or the hundreds of thousands of other gods that have been believed in by people is parts of the world throughout human history. Guess what? You’re an atheist when it comes to all of those too. We just go one god further.

    ***This is becoming almost entertaining. I mean come on, a Muslim is an atheist. An atheistic theist? This is truly the height of internet atheism. It would be impossible for me or any other theist to be an atheist. It is completely self-contradictory. Let me ask you something, do you actually deny then that a person who believes that God does not exist is NOT an atheist? Not only that, I am not a Muslim or a Hindu because I believe their gods are not God. I believe that and I believe that because I believe in the truth of Christianity, which means that there is only one God and it is logically impossible for those gods to be God as there is only one God. Get it?

    As for not making an argument, I would suggest you do a little more digging. By the way, “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.

    ***Oh boy. I don’t think I ever said it wasn’t, but that’s what an agnostic would say, not an atheist.

    Evolution is as real as gravity. So I know, based of mounds of scientific evidence and peer reviews, how we evolved into human beings. I’m not a biologist, so I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, but I find it far more convincing than a book that says we were created out of dirt and a rib.

    ***Hey, cool, Elijah has a degree in biology. Also, explain to me your exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2. Also, I don’t deny evolution, I just deny the metaphysical naturalistic presuppositions that you bring into it.

    We do not yet have the answers as to how exactly the universe came into existence, and don’t pretend that you do either.

    ***You mean, you can’t explain how something which didn’t exist previously brought itself into being? Huh. I wonder why? (just put that into the Google translator as Sarcasm into English) Also, who’s pretending? Seems to me rather obvious that God brought the universe into being.

    But with each passing day we are discovering new things about the universe and our understanding of it is expanding. I believe that one day we will find the answer, and I find it very improbably that any “god” will have anything to do with whatever that answer is.

    ***Ah, yes. Naturalism of the gaps. So why do you find it “very improbable” that any God brought it into being? (We’re starting to expose your belief here)

    You end your post by doing what anyone incapable of proving the existence of god and thereby justifying their beliefs would do — shift the burden of proof. Instead of redefining the word “atheist” and tearing down straw men, and then asking why I’m an atheist, why not show me proof that there is a god, collect your Nobel prize and watch me change my stance accordingly.

    ***Actually, I was anticipating us being able to answer your elementary objections. Then once your objections to our arguments have been answered, I was wondering what will keep you an atheist? After all, you claim to look at things evidentially, and critically, as well as changing your opinion accoringly. What would keep you an atheist? It is because you are entrenched in a belief that you are hiding in an attempt to have to present any form of argumentation whatsoever.

    You can’t.

    ***SEE.

    At most, what you can do is tell me to “look around at the trees and the sky and the human eye,” or subscribe the the “god of the gaps,” or attempt to use a snippet of scripture to prove god is real, not realizing the Bible is the claim, not the evidence. In other two thousand years, no convincing evidence has surfaced that god exists.

    ***Now who is building up strawmen?

    That’s why I’m an atheist. Now, why are you a theist?

    ***You haven’t actually given me a reason. As for why I am a theist? Because God is real, because in faith I came to Him and in turn He came to me and I have marks on my body to prove it. The second reason, is that the arguments for theism far outweigh the arguments against it (you might not be aware of this but there ARE arguments for atheism, of course, you think these atheist philosophers are talking nonsense). Because there is incredible historical evidence of the truth of Christianity, namely, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Lots of things tell me that God is who I believe Him to be. But nothing tells me you’re right, including you.

    Reply
    1. X Atheist

      This post is honestly so non-sensical I can’t even be bothered to respond to it all. But a couple points.

      Bertrand Russell is not the “grandfather of atheism.” That’s ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense. People have been atheists for as long as there have been people. The difference is theists used to burn our writings and burn US, at the stake. We never used to be called “atheists,” we were referred to as “heathens.” I didn’t even know who Bertrand Russell was until I got fed up with being surrounded by religion and started a Twitter account to discuss atheism. So, while I now appreciate his genius, I truly could not care any less how anyone defines atheism. It is what it is, a non-belief in god. Simple. The reason this is becoming overcomplicated is because if I say “I believe there is no god,” you are going to shift the burden of proof and ask me to prove it. In the interest of, you know, getting somewhere with this debate, I’m instead going to ask you again to either prove god exists with falsifiable evidence, OR alternatively, prove the Flying Spaghetti Monster does NOT exist and I will use your method to prove god doesn’t exist.

      You keep talking about “historical evidence” that Jesus rose from the dead. Well now you’re in my territory because I am a history major, and I can tell you that no such evidence exists, unless you are speaking of the Bible, in which case we are going to have another (and much more comical) discussion regarding the blatant inaccuracies in that ancient text. So please, let’s stop trying to define atheism and I will simply tell you what I do not believe:

      – in god
      – in any religion

      Call me whatever you want based on that, doesn’t matter.

      Reply
    2. phillost

      This post is honestly so non-sensical I can’t even be bothered to respond to it all. But a couple points.

      ***I think you just don’t know how to respond and it has nothing to do with my post being nonsense.

      Bertrand Russell is not the “grandfather of atheism.” That’s ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense. People have been atheists for as long as there have been people.

      ***First off, I didn’t give him the name, he’s called that in philosophical circles. Second, you seem to assume that it has something to do with chronology, when in actuality it has everything to do with influence. This has to be one of the least thought out things I have ever heard anyone say.

      The difference is theists used to burn our writings and burn US, at the stake. We never used to be called “atheists,” we were referred to as “heathens.”

      ***I want to see the evidence for this claim. Also, sure you were called atheists. Plato thought you guys should be imprisoned and reasoned with until you actually came to good sense. Also, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck. Probably a dog right?

      I didn’t even know who Bertrand Russell was until I got fed up with being surrounded by religion and started a Twitter account to discuss atheism.

      ***You’re from Canada, we are a post Christian, secular country, not the Bible belt. No need to feed me with your propaganda.

      So, while I now appreciate his genius, I truly could not care any less how anyone defines atheism.

      ***Odd statement to make given you have been arguing for your definition of atheism on here for a week now.

      It is what it is, a non-belief in god. Simple. The reason this is becoming overcomplicated is because if I say “I believe there is no god,” you are going to shift the burden of proof and ask me to prove it.

      ***I’m not going to “shift the burden of proof”, I am going to present my arguments and now you also must present yours. We both have a burden of proof. But the whole point I have been trying to make is that this is what you are trying to avoid and the entire redefinition of atheism is not more then a ploy to hide intellectual laziness. If I want a critique of my arguments, then I will bring them to someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

      In the interest of, you know, getting somewhere with this debate, I’m instead going to ask you again to either prove god exists with falsifiable evidence, OR alternatively, prove the Flying Spaghetti Monster does NOT exist and I will use your method to prove god doesn’t exist.

      ***You never asked me to prove that God exists. You asked me why I was a theist. As I said this is not a debate, it a critique. By a layman. You. Now I have no problem with God being most powerful (as He created the universe), or omniscient (as to have created the universe would mean we couldn’t possibly measure His intelligence) for instance, but can you give me any reason as to why I should think that God is a material being, namely a bowl of delicious Italian cuisine?
      ***Now. Being as how we have established that you have no arguments, or any good reason to hold your beliefs (which of course you claim are not beliefs) I am left with a choice and I don’t like either option. So let’s play your game. Do affirm the beginning of the universe?

      You keep talking about “historical evidence” that Jesus rose from the dead. Well now you’re in my territory because I am a history major, and I can tell you that no such evidence exists, unless you are speaking of the Bible, in which case we are going to have another (and much more comical) discussion regarding the blatant inaccuracies in that ancient text.

      ***I said it once, actually. I also am rather amused with your arrogance at being a history major as it seems so far off modern scholarship. You also claimed the Book of Hebrews was 600 years older then it actually is. Either way, I’m your huckleberry.

      So please, let’s stop trying to define atheism and I will simply tell you what I do not believe:
      – in god
      – in any religion
      Call me whatever you want based on that, doesn’t matter.

      ***And here is what I believe:

      – you have no arguments
      – I do

      Reply
      1. X Atheist

        “And here is what I believe:

        – you have no arguments
        – I do”

        YAY! He finally gets it! Your argument is that god exists. As an atheist I’m presenting you with no arguments. I’m asking you to prove yours. So go ahead, we’re finally getting somewhere.

        “I said it once, actually. I also am rather amused with your arrogance at being a history major as it seems so far off modern scholarship. You also claimed the Book of Hebrews was 600 years older then it actually is. Either way, I’m your huckleberry.”

        – Claims history is far off modern scholarship.
        – Studies an ancient text and talks about “historical accuracies.”
        – Not hypocritical at all.

        “You’re from Canada, we are a post Christian, secular country, not the Bible belt. No need to feed me with your propaganda.”

        That doesn’t make my family non-religious. Wonderful leap you made there though. Also kind of ironic a Christian is complaining about “propoganda” given all the lies the Church has told the world over the centuries to lead us to their “truth.”

        “I’m not going to “shift the burden of proof”, I am going to present my arguments and now you also must present yours. We both have a burden of proof. But the whole point I have been trying to make is that this is what you are trying to avoid and the entire redefinition of atheism is not more then a ploy to hide intellectual laziness.”

        Nope. Wrong on many fronts. The first is that as an atheist I am making no argument. If you want to talk to me as an anti-theist that’s another issue, but the topic here is atheism, not anti-theism so let’s get it straight. You’re saying there’s a god. Your argument. I’m saying I don’t believe you and would like for you to prove it before I accept your position. No burden of proof on me, but good try.

        You said it — “redefinition” of atheism. Haha. You can’t redefine words to suit your position. Atheism is what it is no matter how you want to spin it.

        “I want to see the evidence for this claim. Also, sure you were called atheists. Plato thought you guys should be imprisoned and reasoned with until you actually came to good sense. Also, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck. Probably a dog right?”

        You want evidence that Christians tortured, mutilated, humiliated, and killed “heathens”? Really? Maybe you ought to open a history book afterall, no matter how ‘far off from modern scholarship’ it is. I would post illustrations of exactly what Christians did, but I’m afraid I’m not sure I can post images here. I would suggest googling it. The Middle Ages and especially the Dark Ages were not Christianity’s best years.

        “Now I have no problem with God being most powerful (as He created the universe), or omniscient (as to have created the universe would mean we couldn’t possibly measure His intelligence) for instance, but can you give me any reason as to why I should think that God is a material being, namely a bowl of delicious Italian cuisine?”

        – Prove it.
        – Prove it.
        – Prove it.
        – Because it says so in a book I read. Prove it isn’t real.

        Go.

  11. Dan Arel

    I was challenged to address this via Twitter, and I will. Though I will apologize beforehand if people reply to my post and I do not find the time to reply, though I promise to try to come back here again.

    This post is sort of funny. Defining atheism. How is it up to the theist to define something he does not understand? Theism, simply stated is the belief in a god or gods. Some form of deity. Atheism is just as it sounds, its the opposite, its the the belief that no god or gods exist.

    The definition cannot be more plain and simple. To say this is problematic because it refers to someones psychological state is pure hyperbole.

    I think I want to address your issues all at once, instead of one at a time, so you say “atheism is not a statement about reality”, “atheism is compatible with theism” and then some ridiculous claim about squirrels.

    You wrongly describe atheism yet again. Atheism is not a statement about reality, or based on the persons psychological state, its an observation. Atheism is a persons observation that there is no god. It is not a claim of fact, because an atheist knows, just as an honest theist, that the idea of god can be neither proven nor disproven, so an atheists disbelief is nothing more than that persons observation of the evidence before them. But this makes you claim of compatibility wrong. Yes, I can be an atheist and be wrong, but do you openly admit that theism then makes no sense, because you could be wrong? If atheism cannot be a disbelief in gods because of this claim, than theism cannot be the belief. Your statement is utterly illogical. Im not even going to dignify the final remarks of this post as they are so nonsensical.

    So simply, you don’t get to redefine atheism, it already has a definition, its the rejection of the belief in gods. There is nothing more to it, there is nothing problematic about this and it does atheism no harm, because you cannot harm an idea.

    So welcome to the club of 100,000 theists who try once again to change the meaning of atheism to fit into a narrow minded description because to actually accept that there are people on this planet who reject such foolish ideas would cause a theist to have to question their own beliefs, and we all know the biggest enemy of a theist is free-thought.

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      Dan Arel,
      Feel free to respond whenever you get a chance. Your lack of response is not an indication of no response.

      You said, “Atheism is just as it sounds, its the opposite, its the the belief that no god or gods exist.”

      Thank you, we agree.
      A statement about God’s non-existence is a claim about reality.
      The rest of my post was critiquing the view that atheism is defined as a “lack of belief in god(s)”. It was __not__ critiquing the view that atheism is defined as “the belief that no god or gods exist”, as you said.

      You said, “So simply, you don’t get to redefine atheism, it already has a definition, its the rejection of the belief in gods.”

      Again, we agree on the definition of atheism.
      I am not redefining it, your fellow atheists are redefining it.
      Feel free to attempt to convince your fellow unbelievers that atheism is not “a lack of belief”, but a “belief that no god or gods exist”.
      I appreciate your assistance in this mission, in advance.

      Reply
    2. phillost

      This has to be one of the strangest things I have seen in a while. You said (on Twitter) : “theists trying to define atheism to their convenience. how cute.” and then go on the explicate the exact definition this whole post is defending! Not only that, but it is ALWAYS the atheist defending and redefining atheism to mean “lack of belief”. It’s like you just came from the Bizarro World and are unaware that this world is completely backwards from the world you claim to know. This is one of the strangest interactions I have ever witnessed.

      Reply
  12. Kyle Macelroy

    Your attempt to place more onto atheism than it warrants is somewhat ill conceived. It’s based on you wanting the atheism to be something it’s not and you use some cherry picked definitions from some strange sources to support a particular definition (one that isn’t held by many atheists).

    But there are two main problems with your approach. First, you are making an assumption that atheism is some monolithic, well defined, dogma. This is just incorrect. There are as many flavors to people’s atheism as there are people. I’ve been an atheist for 25 years and haven’t once gone to a meeting or learned my opinions on the topic from anyone. So you’ll never get consensus and are simply trying to hit a target that isn’t there.

    The second one is that you misunderstand how unimportant atheism is to most people who are atheistic. It’s just not important. I know your opinion is likely colored by “internet atheists”. But i guarantee that most of us don’t enjoy arguing about religion since it’s a boring topic. So when you say that atheists wouldn’t want not to be a statement about reality you are incorrect. My atheism is indeed a boring statement about my beliefs not about the world around me. And indeed my atheism is no more reasoned that the beliefs of a chipmunk. All it says is that i’ve never seen an even vaguely convincing argument that there any “Gods”. Heck. I’ve never even seen the concept of “God” well defined and articulated so that the truth of it’s existence can be reasoned or evaluated in anyway i understand.

    But the most telling misunderstanding you make is made very clear in your second objection to the common definition of atheism. It’s when you when you claim that atheism is compatible with theism. Of course it is. I am an atheist and you are a theist. Both of us exist and have these opinions. The mistake you are making here is that you misunderstand theism. Theism isn’t a statement about reality. It’s a statement about your beliefs/mental state and how you look at reality. You see, one’s beliefs have no bearing on reality. Reality cares not what i think of it. So of course theism exists at the same time as atheism. They are both simply statements about where we stand on a particular issue. I don’t see any reason to believe in a God and you do. If you assert that your opinion has some greater weight than please explain your evidence to this effect. Until someone can do this in a convincing way i remain as convinced of Gods as a chipmunk.

    p.s. i came by because i follow you on twitter after a discussion we had about the KCA (i’m @diraccone). I don’t normally read much in the realm of apologetics (at least not since grade school when i was a Catholic).

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      Kyle,

      I don’t think online encyclopedias are “strange sources”. Generally, for a more rigorous definition of something, we look at the more philosophical references.
      This is because it gives the reasons behind defining words in the way that they do. I didn’t do this as an attempt to cherry pick definitions, I did this because these are reliable sources that can be dissected by interested readers.

      As for the two main problems:
      1. I agree that there are a wide variety of atheists. But if we can’t agree on a definition of atheism, then how do we know what an atheist is?
      2. Again, atheism’s relative importance to different people is irrelevant to the purpose of this post. It was an attempt to explain why defining atheism as “a lack of belief in god(s)” is not a good way to define it.

      Lets imagine that God’s existence is a fact about reality.
      On this definition of atheism, both atheism and theism are TRUE.

      And if I’m going to speak frankly, who cares about someone’s personal beliefs? I want to know about reality. Does God exist or not?
      Defining atheism as nothing more than a “lack of belief” isn’t getting us anywhere closer to discovering the truth about reality.

      Reply
      1. kyle

        Elijiah,

        Well that first source is very odd. I can’t figure out who the people who manage it are and whether or not they are worth listening to and the second site is inconsistent in its definitions on the same page. It says first, “The term ‘atheist’ describes a person who does not believe that God or a divine being exists.” which is exactly the definition you object to. It’s someone who does not believe that God exists. Not believing in something is most certainly not believing that something doesn’t exist. I don’t believe in extraterrestrial life but i certainly don’t believe it doesn’t exist. You see i need some strong positive evidence to hold a positive belief like that. Lacking that i am just pretty certain that it is out there and maybe we’ll find evidence soon. But i still don’t believe. The later it defines atheism thus, “Atheism is the view that there is no God.” which is a different definition. So that second source is weird because it is inconsistent and incoherent in its definitions.

        But discussing sources is boring.

        Your second point is irrelevant. Your interest in making atheism into something it is not is useless. The definition you object to is the most common one i know of. So you are attempting to tell a group of people what they should believe or how they should label themselves to suit your purposes. This is silly.

        I too don’t really give a poop about people’s personal beliefs. Such things are essentially un-debatable and uninteresting. But you seem have decided that the way to shift to another topic is to pretend that this is what everyone else really meant. I am trying to tell you that this is simply untrue.

        I would gladly discuss with you about the nature of reality. But that’s not a debate about atheism or theism. The definition of atheism has nothing to do with this debate since atheism is a lack of belief.

  13. Ignostic Atheist

    You’re attempting to put far too much meaning into a simple word. Theism or atheism is just a statement of belief. It could be a vehement declaration or casual, but If you want to add a qualifier to it, you add a word, not redefine the word.

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      I’m not redefining the word. The word has been defined for quite some time now.
      Atheists are attempting to redefine the word.

      Theism is a statement about belief, yes. But it is also a statement about reality, that can either be true or false.
      Atheism, on this [new] definition, is nothing more than a statement about belief. It therefore cannot be either true or false.

      On this definition of atheism (as I stated in the OP), both atheism and theism can be 100% true. And that seems like a very strange definition of atheism that allows for theism to be true, don’t you agree?

      Reply
      1. Ignostic Atheist

        Yeah, way too complicated. It’s fine for a person’s statements about their beliefs to be always true. Why is that fine? Because they’re making a statement about themselves. Fortunately, while their belief statements may be unfalsifiable, the content of their beliefs may be true or false (there’s your statement of reality). You are free to argue against someone’s beliefs, but don’t ever tell someone that it’s a problem that what they say about themselves can’t be proven false. That’s just rude.

        Here are some definitions for you:
        Agnostic atheist: A person who think’s it’s impossible to prove one way or another the absence of any and all deities, but nonetheless feels it unlikely, and so doesn’t believe in any.
        Gnostic atheist: A person who thinks it is possible to prove there are no deities, and therefore doesn’t believe in any. (Very few atheists qualify for this)
        Agnostic theist: A person who who think’s it’s impossible to prove one way or another the presence of any deities, but chooses to believe anyway.
        Gnostic theist: A person who thinks it is possible to prove there is a deity or deities, and so believes in them.

        So, should you encounter one of these agnostic atheists, your job is to prove that at least one god exists, the same as if you should encounter a gnostic atheist. Their job, on the other hand, is to prove that there is no reason to believe in a god, and every reason not to. While it must have been fun to pretend that atheism is a knowledge belief statement, or agnosticism is a belief in deity statement, they are two different things. One does not go from being an atheist to being an agnostic. One is already an atheist AND an agnostic. The fact that Bertrand Russell claimed agnosticism in this debate, either means that he switched from being a gnostic to agnostic, or he was as confused about the meaning of the words as you are.

        I just realized I probably could have simply pointed out that the opposite of agnosticism isn’t theism. Whatever, more information is better.

      2. Elijiah Post author

        Two questions for you, Ignostic Atheist.

        1. If athiesm is nothing more than a “lack of belief in god(s)”, what word would you use to define someone who “believes god does not exist”?

        2. Is is possible for you to say, “atheism is true”?
        And if so, wouldn’t it be strange for someone to say “atheism is true” and someone else to say, “theism is true” and for them to both be 100% correct?

      3. Ignostic Atheist

        1. If athiesm is nothing more than a “lack of belief in god(s)”, what word would you use to define someone who “believes god does not exist”?

        – I’m not really seeing your point. They’re both theistic belief statements that say the same thing, but with different words. For reference, the definition of belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true. There’s nothing innately religious about belief – it is what you have belief in that makes it so.

        Let’s see if I can translate this into a simpler wording: “Lack of belief in god(s)” -> Belief value of zero pertaining to god. “Belief god(s) do not exist” -> Belief of gods equal to zero.

        2. Is is possible for you to say, “atheism is true”?
        And if so, wouldn’t it be strange for someone to say “atheism is true” and someone else to say, “theism is true” and for them to both be 100% correct?

        – If we’re talking about their personal beliefs, then they are correct in saying that they have them, and it is unfalisifiable. This is ok because a person’s personal beliefs have no necessary relationship to the nature of reality – they can be true 24/7 and not reflect the world at all. But, with regard to a prior statement, where you claim that theism is a statement of belief and also a claim about the world, whereas atheism is merely a statement of belief, It seems like you’re discounting the atheist’s statement about the nature of reality because he is saying that there exists nothing on the subject of god. That there is no god is, in fact, a statement about the nature of reality. It’s as if the theist claims, “Reality is everything, plus god,” and the atheist claims, “Reality is just everything.”

        I mean, the statement of reality is all everyone argues about anyway, and you’re going to come along and say that atheism makes no statement on reality?

        Also, if you go to settings > discussion, you can change the depth of nesting allowed in your comments. I don’t know if you were aware of that.

      4. kyle

        Elijiah.

        I can’t seem to reply to you above (there’s no button for some reason). So i’ll reply here:
        You asked, “Is it possible to say ‘atheism is true’?”

        Of course you can say it, but it’s an ill formed sentence. I assume you mean, “Is it possible to evaluate the truth of the statement “atheism is true”?” Which is still ill formed. Atheism by itself is a noun so it isn’t a logical statement that can be true or false. So technically it’s not a well constructed statement.

        I do think that “Is atheism a well supported position?” This i can evaluate. Or “Is atheism a better supported than theism?”. I will even say the answer is “yes.”

        But the statement “atheism is true” doesn’t work with any definition that makes sense. These would also not work “the moon is true” or “conservatism is true”… So you can say it but you’ll sound silly.

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