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Paul writes: "The dictionary I use most often says denies the existence of God, but now I see another def using lack." Let's keep in mind that the word we're defining is "atheism," not "atheist" (which is another reason why Rocky's suggestion doesn't work). Yes, some sources may define atheism as the denial of the existence of God, but that construction, too, looks at the word from the theist's stubborn perspective. First, it presupposes God's existence; second, it casts the atheist's position as contrarian, which, in its simplest and purest form, it certainly is not. The "denial" definition places the atheist in the position of saying, "No, he does not!" to the theist's claim, "God exists." But that's mistaken, because the essence of atheism is belief; or rather, that is, its absence. The atheist does not necessarily assert that gods do not exist. Indeed, whether gods exist or not is beside the point. The atheist may be indifferent to the question of whether gods exist. He is simply without theistic belief. That's it.Michel, "shortage" doesn't work for the same reason "lack" doesn't work. What's more, a shortage of something is merely an insufficiency. By definition, when a shortage of a thing exists, there is usually some of it, but not enough. I realize this is a small point, but it is not an insignificant one. When we atheists define atheism as "the lack of belief in gods," we are unwittingly admitting that something necessary is missing in us. A lack is a deficiency.
When we say that atheism is "the lack of belief in gods," we are accepting the theists' pitying view of our attitude. Atheists are too often hesitant and apologetic about their views, but when it comes to defining the essence of our outlook on existence we should not compromise. We are not deficient in theistic belief. We are without theistic belief. George Smith (below) advocates the phrase "absence of belief," but that phrase does not belong to him, of course, and it predates his book by decades. As the language evolves, all dictionaries revise their entries periodically. Eventually, I'm sure, atheists sitting on dictionaries' usage panels will correct the obdurate and mistaken notion that many dictionaries persist in advancing when defining "atheism."
Rocky writes, "What's wrong with simply, 'an atheist is one who does not believe in a god or gods'?"
Nothing. But that's what "absence of belief" means--it means there is not a belief. It is not there. Period. Absence equals non-existence. When something is described as absent, there is absolutely no implication that it "should" be present.
In the phrase "lack of belief," by contrast, the pejorative connotation is plain and unarguable. A lack is deficiency--by definition. Therefore, one who lacks a belief in gods is missing something that is ostensibly needed. That's why the definition is flawed; it reflects an obvious bias.
Personally, I don't see a lot of improvement with "absence of" over "lack". Both imply something that "should" be there but that's missing.
What's wrong with simply, "an atheist is one who does not believe in a god or gods"?
Fred writes, "Take the definition of being an atheist. What is it now. All in Chorus. Atheist: a person that lacks belief in gods or a God."
This common definition is NOT a definition that any atheist should accept.
Please let me take this opportunity to point out here that it's a mistake for us (or anyone) to define atheism as a "lack of belief in gods." Why? Because that is the theists' definition of the word. Many dictionaries offer this definition--but dictionaries are largely written by theists who fail to recognize their implicit bias.
The word "lack" carries the connotation of deficiency, the sense that what is lacking is something to be desired. By definition, to lack something is to be in need of whatever one lacks. Atheists know that belief in god is nothing to be desired. We don't lack theistic belief; instead, we simply do not have it.
The better and more accurate definition is: "the absence of [belief in] gods." It's from the Greek; "a" meaning "not" or "without," and "theism" meaning [belief in] gods.
As George Smith has written:
"Atheism, therefore, is the absence of theistic belief. One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is properly designated as an atheist. Atheism is sometimes defined as 'the belief that there is no God of any kind,' or the claim that a god cannot exist. While these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of atheism--and are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of atheism. Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief: it is the absence of belief. An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that a god does not exist, rather he does not believe in the existence of a god."
Lee comments: "The intelligent design crowd holds that all ordered systems must be the product of design, which is obviously false. Robin Hanson is making the same error in the opposite direction: he’s claiming that even systems that weren’t designed by humans can be treated as “designed” by evolution. I think this claim is equally fallacious, for roughly the same reason."
He's right. The brain cannot have been "designed," because to design something is to engineer it purposefully with a plan already in mind.
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