I think when debating people, this has and will come up so although not a new discussion here goes...


I've often heard people say, atheism means a lack of a belief in god/gods which is a disbelief in god/gods which is the same thing as the belief that god/gods do not exist. Yet atheists say atheism is not a belief at all, "we do not believe in anything".  Is this all just semantics? Is this worth talking about yet again?  Do people get confused by this? 

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An attempted proof by repetition.


If you can't actually affirmatively claim that deities don't exist. Call yourself an agnostic, for that is what you really are.

True. Agnosticism is the position that all claims about a deity made by theists or atheists are ungrounded not because there is not enough evidence either way but because such a claim is unknowable. An atheist may take that as not enough evidence for a god and thus say they do not exist. The origional Greek means 'without knowledge'.

@Kasu   So, you are placing yourself in the position of speaking for each and every person who calls himself an atheist. In that case, you are stating as a fact that anyone who takes the position that God or gods do not exist isn't an atheist, but that is a position you can't prove. It is merely Kasu's opinion.

Of course, atheism and disbelief are not mutually exclusive, which is why I call myself an atheistic agnostic. I do not call myself an atheist pure and simple. Why call yourself by a term most people understand to mean a belief that God doesn't exist? Insisting on a minority definition just confuses the public. If you simply don't find evidence for God believable, and so you disbelieve in the existence of God, then you are what the public would understand to be an agnostic. Try speaking the language that is common coin, and get away from fanciful hair-splitting definitions. There's nothing wrong with being an agnostic.

And you were obviously unconvincing. So, by disbelieving in unicorns I've actually achieved a miracle of sorts. A unicorn is a nonsensical being because it itself can perform miracles similar to the ones Jesus supposedly could perform. It  can purify water and cure the ill and infirm.

That's good for a chuckle, but not much more.

The public's understanding of the term 'agnosticism' is mistaken.  If you don't believe or disbelieve (not equivalent), then you are, quite simply, atheist, in that both positions imply a lack of positive belief in a deity.  I refuse to adopt a mistaken term on the basis of social acceptability.  I am atheist.  Not an atheist, but atheist, meaning 'without belief in god(s)'.

In fact, the actual stance of agnosticism is not that we simply do not know, but can never know... that knowledge of the supernatural (in this case, though it can pertain to virtually any subject) is forever beyond our conception.  On the one side I agree, that we have no knowledge of any supernatural realm (from my perspective this would be because there is no reason to suspect that one exists, i.e. it is nonexistent).  Neither theists nor atheists have empirical knowledge of the supernatural, which in the case of atheists equates to nonbelief, whereas in the case of theists, equates to irrational belief.

In one sense, and one only I agree with you (I think), that none of us know, but in that case both the terms 'theist' and 'atheist' are shorthand, as agnosticism is assumed, though not in the strict sense of never being able to know, since to assert that knowledge is forever unattainable one would have to be omniscient.  To conclude, while I don't absolutely know that a deity doesn't exist, I have not come across a coherent definition of such a deity or the means by which it would exist, and am therefore without belief in god = atheist.

I suggest you read Wilkins's posts on the issue, which I linked in here somewhere.  He covers all this in precise detail.

What is the point, if I may ask, of adopting a usage that people won't understand the same way you do?

When did you become an evolution denier? Not one who denies the evolution of species but the evolution of language.

When language evolves, it ignores etymology and past usage and creates new meanings. Just look at a word like "gay." You could insist that it only means joyful or happy, but look at how foolish that is. This is the kind of foolishness you're engaging in.

You need a new word for your position if you want to engage the public outside of ThinkAtheist.com. The people at large own the language.

And here is how the public sees it:

"a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings."

I think you'll find most dictionaries are congruent with that definition. You can proclaim "The dictionary editors have it wrong!" all you want. Hardly anyone will listen. It's wasted effort. The public doesn't like hair-splitting and your special pleading will be ignored.

As for agnostic, that is subject to multiple definitions:

"1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. Synonyms: disbeliever, nonbeliever, unbeliever; doubter, skeptic, secularist, empiricist; heathen, heretic, infidel, pagan.

"2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.

"3. a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic: Socrates was an agnostic on the subject of immortality."

Anyway, I always come back to this: "You either believe God exists or you don't. If you do, you're religious, if you don't you're an atheist. This is how the term is used, and it doesn't matter how you frame your dis- or lack of belief. You're an atheist as the term is generally understood.

I'm a strong believer in language evolution; that's why I prefer the approach of the OED, which is to describe the living language, as opposed to, say, the French model of prescribing their language.

Different dictionaries have different definitions of 'atheism' - this can be as confusing as anything else. How do you propose to address that?

Also, well known atheists like Sam Harris often argue that a christian, for instance, is atheist with respect to, say, the gods of hinduism.  Nobody seems too confused by that.

Finally, there are plenty of words that are used in technical fields - like 'theory' - that mean different things in the technical field than in the common language.  Yes, theists often say "evolution is just a theory" as if they intended "hypothesis."  But that's cuz they prefer to cherry pick their information.

The problem with dictionary definitions is that they can lead to illogical statements.  Thus, if we really care about defining atheism as a proper subject for study, we should not worry about the lay language if we find it inadequate.  It can't be worse that what fundies do with "theory."

Atheism _is_ specifically the belief that god(s) do not exist.
The lack of a belief,and no drive to find one, either for or against the existence of a god or gods is apathy.
The position of not being sure which way to believe is agnostic.
Theist is the position of specifically believing that at least one god exists.

What establishes the actual meaning of a term is how its used.You're trying to defend your position by redefining the terminology so it's unrecognizable to most English speakers.


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