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On the Definition of the Words Atheism and Atheist

 

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It has come to my attention that some atheists on the internet are trying to redefine the words “atheism” and “atheist” to mean anyone who simply lacks a belief in gods.  This definition would include babies, agnostics, and people who have not come to a conclusion about the existence of gods.

 

Some proponents of this definition can be found in the alt.atheism newsgroup and at the following web sites:

http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/intro.html

http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathq_atheism101.htm

http://www.alabamaatheist.org/awareness/questions/atheist.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

 

A “lack of belief” definition is a bad definition for many reasons.  It is not commonly used.  It is not defined that way in any reputable dictionary.  It is too broad because most agnostics and babies don’t consider themselves atheists.  And it makes no sense for an “-ism” to be a based on a lack of belief.

 

These atheists are usually motivated to redefine the word “atheist” because they want to enlarge the definition of “atheist” to include as many people as possible, or because they perceive it to be an advantage in debates with theists.  Unfortunately, some of these people have used lies and distortions to support their opinions, and some have made extremely ignorant and grossly incorrect statements that may reflect badly on all atheists.  I will correct some of these incorrect statements later in this essay.

 

But first I will try to illustrate the problem by using three groups of people:

Group A believes that gods do not exist (atheists).

Group B neither believes that at least one god exists nor do they believe that gods do not exist.  This would include agnostics, babies, and the undecided.

Group C believes that at least one god exists (theists).

 

It is generally agreed that the people in group A are atheists and the people in group C are not.  The main point of disagreement is whether the people in group B are considered atheists or not.  The people who want a “lack of belief” definition would define group B as atheists while most people, and all reputable dictionaries, do not.  Many of the people who are pushing a “lack of belief” definition call group A “strong atheists” and call group B “weak atheists.

 

One of the main problems of a “lack of belief” definition is that it is too broad.  If someone told you they were an atheist, you would still not know if they were agnostic, undecided, believed that gods don’t exist, or never thought about it.  This makes the word nearly useless.

 

Another problem with a “lack of belief” definition is that it is not accepted by the vast majority of people.  I personally don’t know anyone who considers babies atheists because they lack belief in gods.  I also don’t know of any people who are agnostic or undecided about the existence of God who call themselves atheists.

 

The lack of public acceptance for a “lack of belief” definition of “atheism” is reflected in the fact that no reputable dictionary has a “lack of belief” definition for either “atheism” or “atheist”.  However, this has not kept a few morons from incorrectly claiming that various dictionary definitions have a “lack of belief” definition.  On page three I have posted and examined many reputable dictionary definitions.  On page four I have posted excerpts from reputable Encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

On the next page I have posted some of the arguments these people have used, and I explained why why they are so damn stupid.  But first this would be a good time to read the following links.


 

Here are some links:

 

Atheism and Natheism.  An article by Professor Tony Pasquarello in the Autumn 2003 edition of American Atheist Magazine. This link has about one page of the article for free.  The entire article is $5.00.

 

Atheism and Natheism: part II  An article by Professor Tony Pasquarello in the Winter 2003 edition of American Atheist Magazine.  This link has about one page of the article for free.  The entire article is $5.00.

 

Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism (1998), an Essay by Theodore M. Drange.


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