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?
Two features of this discussion are apparent:
1. some take very specific senses of words, and seem unaware that even in the dictionary, broader definitions are possible - or, at least, they seem perfectly happy to say their sense is correct without supporting the claim.
2. All our claims are equally valid as far as I know because (a) I've never seen a proper account of all the senses of these terms except from theists whose opinions are irrelevant and (b) I've read a number of well-respected atheists (e.g. John Wilkins) who has argued for a spectrum of meanings.
I think a very important task for our community is to develop a way of describing/defining our terms that is broad enough to accommodate everyone in our community yet specific enough to disarm the various fallacious arguments of the theists.
Robert, in my opinion, it is important to distinguish between 'Being certain that no Gods exist' and 'Not believing in any Deities'
The first stance , Christians like to use to accuse Atheists of having a position of which can't be 'proven' , so in a debate, they try to make it sound like Atheism can be totally disregarded as a rational stance because you can't prove it. Thus, they argue belief in Jesus is based on 'faith' and not an unreasonable position because they don't say there is 'Proof' for their belief. This is a terrible trap for an Atheist to fall into.
The second stance just says there is not sufficient evidence to believe in a deity, so it is rational to suspend judgement until evidence is given. But you can also say it is more likely a deity does not exist just like the tooth fairy doesn't exist ... Christians like to make it seem like it's a 50 / 50 coin flip for existence vs. non existence if you can't prove the negative.
Another form of this silly position is a Christian saying ' Welllll ... you can't DISPROVE God!" as if it's some sort of GOTCHA position.
I think the semantics are always important because even a comma or a period misplaced in a sentence can change the meaning of an entire paragraph.
In summary, the details matter. One should expect all possible variations of what Atheism means because sadly, it is so painstakingly misunderstood among mainstream Christianity.
Disbelief requires some sort of evidence. In the case of atheists, the lack of evidence for a touted deity is evidence enough. It would not require much evidence, any would surfice, any that could not be explained by coincidence for then moving those that don't believe into the camp of those that do. Even after 2000 years of looking, there still seems to be none.
Actually, disbelief is the default and requires no evidence. I tell you I've seen a pink unicorn. You might be tempted to believe me if you know me and have never known me to lie (this constitutes some, but not very good, evidence), but your own personal lack of evidence of pink unicorns would require me to provide evidence. Disbelief is the default position here, as it always is.
Lack of evidence for god is one thing, but there is also positive evidence that he doesn't exist. EG, the flood. Not only is there no evidence that flood happened, but there is evidence that the flood didn't happen. That is, not only is the geological evidence is such that there is both (a) no evidence for a flood, and (b) evidence that other non-flood things happened.
Merriam-Webster.com definition of "atheist": one who believes that there is no deity
Dictionary.com definition of "atheist": a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings
Where are you guys who are promoting definitions incompatible with common usage getting your information?
From a recognition of the limitations of dictionaries as resource documents. Abridged dictionaries aren't meant to serve as comprehensive documents. They favor concision. Concepts too broad to be concisely recorded are recorded to capture the most generalized sense of the world with brevity. No dictionary contains the entire development of all philosophical positions relating to atheism, the entire historical usage, or the most contemporary forms as they pertain to modern philosophy or, as one might say, the atheist movement. Chiefly, many people require a word that denotes their position on theism, yet is consistent with rational skepticism and the scientific method.
That said, the Oxford English Etymological Dictionary uses 'disbelief in God' stemming from the Greek atheos; without God, denying God. For 'disbelief' it offers the definition 'want of belief', 'not to believe', which is consistent with 'lack of belief'. The OED is at least as authoritative as Merriam-Webster, and far more so than dictionary.com. Does it really matter? I don't think so. None of the dictionaries are wrong; they just aren't very thorough. They weren't designed to be.
And yet, dictionaries are the baseline from which any discussions of terms that the general public may use should start. I have no problem with going beyond the dictionary. I do have a problem with ignoring it. That's all.
It really depends on the term in question and the context to which it is being applied.
Some of it comes from the philosophy literature and arises because of the need to cover a broader range of beliefs than what is allowed by the dictionary definitions, yet remain logically consistent. John Wilkins's posts, which I linked to elsewhere in the discussion, goes into great detail about this very matter.
Websters dictionary has several definations, the first being the religious conviction; only natural in a society geared to satisfying the "God people". I consider myself to be a realist and pragmatist. I refuse to define myself by something I am not.
I think its poor word recognition based on the tone of the word. Sometimes it refers more to a dogmatic faith, while other times it refers to a theory based on evidence. In the words of The Offspring, "You Gotta Keep 'Em Separated". People dont do that so well. If Im debating and the debate goes beyond what I just said, unless there is really good justification, I ignore them until they say something constructive.