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?
John Wilkins also wrote a lot about this at EvolvingThoughts.
http://evolvingthoughts.net/2011/07/atheism-agnosticism-and-theism-... is the last of those posts, with links to the previous ones. Worth reading.
The absence of belief in gods is not the same thing as a belief in the absence of gods. My daughter was an atheist until she went to school because she had no belief in gods. She did not believe that gods did not exist because she didn't know what gods were and I think this is the crux of the issue. Saying that atheism is a belief that gods don't exist makes gods a subject to disbelieve in. Saying that atheism is the lack of belief in gods makes the belief the subject .Belief is the acceptance of things without evidence. In this way the tone changes. It is not we who are having a belief in relation to gods but theists.
This is an important distinction for atheists who (usually) claim that god is invented by man.It is semantics of course but also literal - all other animals are atheist but they do not believe that gods don't exist. They have no belief in gods existing because they have not ever seen one. The default state of humans is also not to believe in things we can't see and it is theists who have invented gods to explain things they did not understand and make us distinct from the other animals. Therefore many atheists, including me, feel it is important to stress that it is theists who have the belief in relations to gods.
I think the question comes down to how one would act when it came to a situation where it made a difference whether you believed in the existence of deities or simply doubted their existence.
If a vision appeared to you in a fashion that was plainly either miraculous or illusory and it said "I am Yahweh. Believe in me or spend eternity in a lake of fire," how would you respond? You wouldn't be able to get away with merely having no opinion.
To me, it seems if you're an atheist, you'd assume it's an illusion based on your active disbelief in such stuff.
if you're an agnostic, you'd be confused and unable to form a firm opinion, but you might, in Pascal's Wager fashion, decide to commit to belief.
If you're a believer, You believe it already anyway.
Although to a tribe of people living in complete isolation and never having invented (or long forgotten about) the idea of gods may be infulenced towards theism by a travelling missionary. their lack of a belief does not make them bulletproof to conversion. I think that your example of an atheist is leaning to much towards a skeptic to be a fair example.
The problem is that both people who simply "lack"any kind of theistic belief system and those (like me) who are quite certain that nothing like a god could possibly exist often use the same word - "atheist" - to describe themselves. Personally, I make my position clear by calling myself an "antitheist," which, by implication, renders the term, "atheism" as denoting nothing more than an absence of belief rather than an affirmative denial (THERE IS NO GOD, PERIOD!) of any god's existence. I agree with "unseen:" one is either an agnostic or an antitheist; "atheist" is too confounded ambiguous to be definitively useful.
The problem of the "lackers" is that they are then confused with the group that simply doesn't think about the existence of God or deities. A lot of the objectionable ambiguity in their position comes from that.
Perhaps a new term needs to be coined to clear up any miscomunication.
There is an issue of context. If we're talking religious demography, then I think a broad, all-inclusive definition denoting all those that are not theists is fine. In a similar sense, if we're talking about cultural identity, I think it's fine to use 'atheism' as a means of contrasting an individual or group from theists and theism.
When it comes to philosophy, 'lack of belief', as a standalone, doesn't really work. It's essentialy not taking a position. In this context, I'd say a certain level of deliberation and consideration is required.
Yeah. "Poop or get off the pot," in other words. Take a real stand.
True, active disbelief makes one Atheist. But active disbelief is still a lack of belief. Lack of belief is simply the most encompassing definition. The lack of belief is the root of makes one Atheist, but one can be disbelieve to different degrees.
Knows there's a god
Thinks there's a god
Lacks belief in gods (passive Atheism)
Thinks there are no gods
Knows there's no gods
One thing that is important to consider is the common misuse of Agnostic to be a middle-ground regarding belief or, that they simply don't know there's a God. This comes from the theistic statement that Atheism is the affirmative claim that god doesn't exist. Such a person would be an Atheist, but the absolute claim of nonexistence is not required to be an Atheist. So in reality, the Agnostic claim of 'I don't know there's no god' is actually correct until they say that they aren't an Atheist though. The fact of the matter is that they are both. They may have bought into the false definitions some believers throw about, or they may be simply using the terminology that the believer will understand. Still, we must remember that Atheism concerns belief, whereas Agnosticism concerns knowledge. So in this regard, Agnostic is very reasonably. But it says nothing of what I believe. That is why I would be best classified as an Agnostic Atheist. I don't know there is no god, but I also don't believe in gods.
Are you saying it's possible to know something but not believe it?
I don't think it's possible, most of the time anyway, to keep knowledge and belief as separate as you make it sound. In order to believe something, you have to feel you know it, don't you? And when you know something, it's virtually impossible not to believe it.
"I believe (because I think I know) that the mustard is behind the milk in my refrigerator."
"I know I paid more than $500 for my bicycle, so of course I believe it."
BTW, I'm the other guy here who calls himself and atheistic agnostic (or vice versa).
Are you saying it's possible to know something but not believe it?
No, not at all. It's obvious that if you know something, that you also believe it to be true. But the inverse is the part that's not necessarily true. You can believe something without knowing for 100% fact that it is so. Like I don't believe in a god. Although I feel that the chances of a god are slim, I must admit that I am not omniscient and can't claim absolute certainty that no variety of god exists. I can still believe there are none based off the staggering lack of reason to believe the claims are so. But the honest thing is to admit that I don't know with 100% certainty. I can be 99% sure, but that still leaves room for the possibility that I'm wrong. I agree with the rest though. :)