How do you define words in conversation> Do you try and use words in conversation that the listener will understand? Do you use words that define the point you are trying to make in the dictionary? And which dictionary?

Most atheists will tell you that atheism means a lack of belief in something. Myself included. But when you look in the first two dictionaries that I checked... it's defined as meaning; "Someone who BELIEVES god does not exist."

Are there Christians working for these dictionaries trolling us? Can we have this reversed? Does it matter? Of course it matters. So what do we do about this?

Tags: atheist, definition, semantics

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RE: Do you try and use words in conversation that the listener will understand?

I am assuming that you are discussing a conversation related to religion. I would say though that any conversation worth having should consider the comprehension level of the listener in order to communicate effectively. That is a basic requirement of ANY kind of communication. It is a waste of time to deliver a message that has no way of reaching its target audience.

RE: Most atheists will tell you that atheism means a lack of belief in something.

I might be on an island all my myself when I say this, but let's talk about these semantics, shall we?

Statement 1:

I do not believe god exists.

Statement 2:

I find no evidence to support the existence of god.

The atheists that I know would say the 2nd statement is more accurate. The reason being that it leaves a door open to the possibility of changing ones mind if presented with sound evidence. I don't think that a theist will naturally understand the difference, or absorb the change of emphasis, unless you explain it do them. It's perhaps an important distinction to make, but it's not "wrong" to say you don't believe a god exists either. To me the battle of semantics is child's play. It's not enough to debate someone on semantical inferences. I think it's a distinction to point out, but not something that carries any weight unless you can articulate the implications of it.

Christians made up the word and gave it a definition. My question, to non believers, who call themselves "a-theists", is why continue calling yourself that word, and try to change the definition? Why not say, no, I'm not that, and call yourself something different? That's what Huxley did.

"Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe." ~ Thomas Huxley

I told one lady I was an atheist, and she said, "Atheists don't exist.  You are an un-believer."  I said something like, "Call me whatever you want.  I certainly do exist, and I don't believe in any deities." What word gets used isn't as important as what is conveyed.  

I sometimes don't want to say, "I am an atheist" because of how inflammatory that might be in the conversation, and how much it might derail the flow of information exchange.  Sometimes, however, I love to make that statement, because it is just what is needed in the conversation.  

I wish people could get it straight what atheism means.  to be fair, I was confused about it for a long time, and I was one.  I am trying to educate Americans, at east, one person at a time.  I had one person say, after a coworker told her I am an atheist, "You can't be an atheist!  I know you.  You're a good person."  She is probably still praying for me.  I eventually told her she would have to take a number and get in line behind everybody else who had been trying to convert me for years, and I went on being the person she thought too good to be an atheist.  

Of course I use words my listeners will understand. To do otherwise is foolish. I don't often talk with academics; their polysyllabic language sails right past me.

People use dictionaries differently. Some say they describe how people use words; others say they prescribe how people are to use words.

Check Stuart Firestein's book Ignorance: How It Drives Science.

He says his emphasizing the lack of knowledge enthuses the kids in his high school classes.


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