Tag Archives: definition of atheism

Please Stop Arguing Definitions, Thanks

Ok, everyone. Lend me your ears!

Many atheists want to define atheism as “lack of belief in god(s)” and faith as “believing without evidence”.
Many theists want to define atheism as “the belief that god does not exist” and faith as “confident trust based on knowledge”.


… aaaand the conversation starts and stops there.

The goal of a conversations is NOT to strong-arm the other person into accepting your definition of a word. The goal of conversations is to discuss the issues reasonably and ultimately… discover the truth.

Stop it.
Stop this senseless bickering over definitions.

I can’t imagine someone thinking, “faith is belief without evidence? Christianity is a lie!” or “atheism is the belief that god doesn’t exist? Christianity must be true!”

If someone says they have faith, ask, “what do you mean by faith?”
If someone says they’re an atheist, ask “what do you mean by atheist?”

Accept their definition and move forward.

In this particular instance, suspend your inner analytic philosopher and channel your inner pragmatist.

This is a plea to everyone.
Let’s all work to move the conversation forward. Stop getting stuck arguing definitions. And stop defining your opponents position into irrationality.

– ElijiahT

Ps. This is not some kind of post-modern “words don’t have definitions” appeal. Words do have meaning. But we want to continue the conversation, not stop it because we can’t agree on the basics.

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) Continue reading