(I realise that for a first blog post this may be wordy, but I wrote this down last night and thought it would be a waste if I didn't share it).

As someone who often enjoys writing, as well as the stufy of language and words, I was inspired by a section of a TED Talk (TED talks are thirty minute lectures by some of the best minds on the planet, so if you haven't seen any yet, I will put a link in the comments) by Richard Dawkins, in which he discuses the connotations and benefits/drawbacks of the different terms used to describe atheists. As a term, atheism to me has always been unsatisfying, not really showing the full picture in terms of beliefs, and often being misconstrued by the general populace.

To begin I'd like to quote the dictionary's (Oxford of course) definition of atheism. It is as follows: "the theory or belief that God does not exist". Firstly I'd like to point out the capitilisation of "God", which to me seems very presumptious. Not only that, but the fact that the definition only mentions one specific god is very insulting - and also quite perplexing, since the definition of theism in the same dictionary is "belief in the existance of gods or a god," Why does the definition of atheism not include the fact that we also disbelieve the existence of any other god, not just Yaweh?

I think another area of confusion when approaching definitions of atheism is the idea of belief. 'Belief' has several definitions, however none of them specify conviction based upon evidence, or reason. The difference between belief and faith is muddier still. Belief is described as a 'conviction', whereas faith is a ' strong conviction'. The difference between the two is difficult to quantify (isn't a conviction by very definition 'strong'?) and I would much prefer to stay away away from the word belief, at least in so far as to use it on its own (and advise other atheists to do the same). Instead of 'belief' I will instead say 'a conviction based upon evidence' or something similar.

Another point worth making is that the definition of atheism is rather absolute. Most atheists would say that given conclusive evidence, they would believe in god (such evidence has not yet come to light). Therefore, as Dawkins remarks in 'The God Delusion, the majority of atheists are 99.99% atheist, or to elaborate assume there is no god, and assume that there will probably never be evidence for any gods' existance. However they would concede that there is a 0.01% chance that a god could exist.

To bring this back to my original point, the mudiness surrounding the definition of the word atheist makes the term difficult to apply in the absolute. Therefore I propose (apologies to those who have undoubtedly proposed the same before me) that either a) we lobby for a redifining of the word atheist, one which is ultimately more flexible and greater elaborates on how atheists come about their convictions b) create a new word that better describes us and the movement we belong to, or c) reappropriate a pre-existing word to descrive ourselves. b) would be the least practical, and without full support from all 'atheist' communities would most likely fail. Personally my favourite option is c), and the word I have in mind is already being bandied about by other atheists.

From now on, I shall first and foremost call myself a rationalist - not only does it allude to my beliefs, but it directly describes how I arrive at those beliefs, which is arguably more important than the beliefs themselves. Who among us would not say that rational though led you to atheism, rather than the other way round? Also the dictionary definition encompasses all areas of the idea. Rationalism - "1.the theory that reason is the foundation of certainty in knowledge. 3. a belief in reason rather than religion as a guiding principle in life." (I missed out the second definition because it makes little sense).

So in closing, I say to you Think Rationalist, because rationalism is the process of employing reason and evidence to come to a conclusion, rather than just the conclusion.

Views: 1

Tags: Rationalism, atheism, dictionary, words

Comment by Johnny on April 26, 2009 at 2:26pm
Great post!

Have you heard of the Brights movement? Kind of similar to what you're talking about (in B and C).

The tough part with using 'rationalist' (as Nancy also pointed out) is that stupid things can be rationalized too. Additionally you'll find plenty of theists who think themselves rational; while they might approach most aspects in life rationally, you and I would view their religious beliefs as being other-than-rational -- but they think their religious beliefs are just as rational as the rest of their life. Your definition does theoretically counter this; but most theists are not going to know the details of the definition, so you'll still have to be quoting definitions at them (same as we do with atheism).
Comment by Adam Houten on April 26, 2009 at 2:31pm
Thank you very much! I agree that many peoples' 'rationalisations' could be completely irrational, but am still not deterred to using it. However, I shall look more into the nuances of empiricism to further my personal quest of understanding.
Comment by Morgan Matthew on April 26, 2009 at 6:13pm

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