What is Atheism?

AronRa

Administrator
This conversation began on Twitter, and I moved it here because it is not possible to discuss anything of depth on Twitter.

I live in Texas, where some people actually think they were born Republican, and that they owe loyalty to the party of their birth. How anyone could have that impression is bewildering to me. Obviously we are not born with political opinions. We may believe whatever our parents say, but only as long as we don’t know any better and still think we can trust them. Some of us eventually decide that our folks don’t really know what they’re talking about, but we had to develop our own perspectives to learn that. We weren’t born with that—or any—understanding.

Similarly, I was raised by a Mormon family, baptized into their church at eight years-old, but I never considered myself a Mormon. Because even as a child, I knew that Mormonism was a collection of beliefs, and I didn’t know what all of them were. How could I know whether I believed everything that was required to be a Mormon? I knew there were other religions too, but I knew next to nothing about them. So until I studied every other belief-system, then how could I know whether one of them might make more sense to me? How could I claim a belief when I don’t even know what that belief is? Nor what the options are either? I’m actually a bit alarmed that I seem to be the only kid who ever thought about it this way, to realize that we are not simply born into the religion of our parents, nor into their political party either.

My mother should know we aren’t born with a religious belief. She wasn’t born a Mormon. Her parents belonged to a different denomination when she was a girl. She grew up and adopted Mormonism and then converted my grandparents, somehow. But she never converted me. She didn’t know she had to. I guess she thought that once I was baptized, that was it, that I was made a Mormon at that moment, as if I would be one from then on. There was no accounting for how reason might effect my position.

I hate that I have to explain this yet again. Hopefully this one last time will be all I ever need say about it from now on.

The list of atheist organizations includes the Center for Inquiry, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Foundation Beyond Belief and Secular Student Alliance, among many others. Not all of them have "atheist" in their name because if you use that word, then you have to explain what you mean by that, and you'll have to argue with those people who insist that it doesn't or can't really mean what we all mean when we identify as such.

If you Google ‘atheism’, you will see that the most common definition is “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” This is the common usage. Notice that Google also defines “disbelief” as “inability or refusal to accept that something is true or real”, not necessarily belief that it is false. The issue here is that some philosophers insist that 'disbelief' cannot simply mean that one is unconvinced that the claim is true; they argue that it must also be a conviction that the claim is not true. Similarly, some philosophers say that atheism cannot merely be the absence of belief that gods exist, but that it can only be the presence of belief that no gods exist.

Wikipedia explains:
“Atheism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.”

Which means that atheism is NOT a belief that any deity exists.
The contrast is between believers and unbelievers,
NOT between believers believing that the claim is true vs believers believing that the claim is false.

I'm told that there are reasons why some philosophers insist on this unnecessarily restrictive and counterproductive definition, which only serves to diminish atheists individually and collectively, but thus far the only explanation these antagonists have given for why they insist on imposing this prescriptive restriction is that I'm stupid and dishonest, as if everyone who shares my opinion is dishonest too. Yet there are an awful lot of people who honestly share my opinion and for good reason. Each of the organizations who identify as atheist agree with me on this.

For example, the National 501(c)(3) organization of American Atheists says:
Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.
Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not
[necessarily] a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.”

Similarly, Atheist Alliance International agrees:
”Theism is the belief in a god or gods. The prefix ‘a’ means; ‘without’ or ‘lack of’. Therefore, atheism means ‘without a belief in a god or gods’ or the ‘lack of a belief in a god or gods’. We often hear theists say, “If you don’t believe in God, you must believe God does not exist!” but this is simply wrong. Lacking a belief in a god does not entail believing that no gods exist. A person could reasonably say she doesn’t know if any gods exist, and there are none that she currently believes in. ...It is not necessary for an atheist to claim that no gods exist, nevertheless, some do. People often call this position hard atheism. Hard atheism is atheism with the additional conviction that there are no gods anywhere either inside, or outside, of the universe.”

Atheist Republic also agrees:
"Atheism is a very broad term, even though it is basically interpreted as the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. The term is contrasted with theism, which suggests that there exists at least one deity. The word atheism dates back to the 5th Century BCE Greek word atheos, which means “without gods.” Over the years, the application of the word has been narrowed down significantly, thanks to the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry and an increase in the criticism of religion. Today, there are very few people who understand the concept completely and that is why atheism is often misunderstood and even vilified to a large extent. Different people perceive atheism differently, and hence, it is difficult to determine the total number of atheists in the world."

Note that this last citation says that the original definition of atheism was simply "godless", being in some sense "without god(s)" or "without theism", and that some time later, some philosophers imposed a newer narrower redefinition, which each of the organizations above uniformly reject. All of these and many other activist groups promoting skeptical atheism, science education, secular policies and humanist values identify as unbelievers as contrasted with believers. Yet some antagonistic philosophers seek to prohibit atheist groups from identifying by the one criteria that matters to us, by insisting instead that we cannot NOT believe. Instead we must believe in NOT, that we must adopt a positive belief that no gods exist, no matter how senseless that sounds.

They cite the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as one of few sources to share their definition, even though it also says that “it is important to recognize that the term “atheism” is polysemous—i.e., it has more than one related meaning—even within philosophy.” Thus "weak atheism" (as a lack of belief) "is certainly a legitimate definition in the sense that it reports how a significant number of people use the term. Again, there is more than one “correct” definition of “atheism”."

That said, I have to point out two things the S.E.P. got wrong. One is where it supposes that: "If, “atheism” is defined in terms of theism and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God, then it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists." However, the original and still persistent consistent common standard definition cited by every one of the self-identifying atheist organizations is that Theism is the psychological condition of believing that one or more gods exist. Thus atheism is the absence of the psychological condition of believing that any gods exist.

The other error is where the SEP says that the philosophical redefinition "has the added virtue of making atheism a direct answer to one of the most important metaphysical questions in philosophy of religion, namely, “Is there a God?” There are only two possible direct answers to this question: “yes”, which is theism, and “no”, which is atheism." This is wrong. A detriment is not a virtue. The metaphysical question was never "is there a god?" That question was always "Do you BELIEVE in a god?"

The question of "does God exist" is a topic of idle philosophical pontification of no real consequence. Whether God exists or not is irrelevant. It changes nothing either way. All that matters is whether we believe there's a god.

Throughout history, we have been warned that we bet our alleged souls, as well as our livelihoods, and sometimes even our very lives on that one question: Do you believe in God? Christians and Muslims both insist that after we die, we will be judged, not over whether we were good or bad, but only over whether or not we believed. And if we didn't believe, we're guilty of a thought crime. It was never about morality. The Abrahamic god itself isn't moral. Nor is it a righteous judge.

It doesn't matter how evil you are. All sins may be forgiven—if you but believe. But if you don't believe, then it doesn't matter how good you are, because the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of disbelief. Believers are offered an impossible promise of a posthumous reward while unbelievers face the threat of a fate worse than death. We're commanded to believe whatever we're told without question, reservation or reason, since neither evidence nor logic supports any of this. You can only believe it on faith. Thus gullibility is the sole criteria for redemption. And if that still doesn't scare you into compliance, the Bible and the Qur'an both say that believers will be blessed and unbelievers will be cursed in this life as well as that other life that doesn't really come after this one. History has also shown that theocracies deal with heresy and apostasy as capital crimes punishable by death. So you had better believe or pretend to believe and fake it convincingly, not because God will punish you, but because his self-appointed minions will.

So whether we're standing at the pearly gates or before a theocratic magistrate, the question before us was never "is there a god", the question literally imposed upon us throughout history and theology is and always was "do you believe in God?" A "yes" answer = Theist. Whoever or whatever collective cannot answer yes to that question is atheist. They do not have the psychological condition of believing that gods exist.

Even the peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:
"The term “atheist” describes a person who does not believe that God or a divine being exists. Worldwide there may be as many as a billion atheists, although social stigma, political pressure, and intolerance make accurate polling difficult."

That's why this is important from the perspective of a secular activist. We have no strength as a demographic because we can't even tell how many of us are there? Because people have been so mislead that most atheists don't even know they are atheist. I was unknowingly atheist for fifteen years before I finally learned what that word really meant. I was mislead by those who pretend that atheism is limited only to those who possess a belief in no-godism, and that anyone who disagrees with that is dishonest.

BornBelievers.png

Religionists point to various studies showing how gullible, impressionable and irrational people can be, and they argue that this means that humans are born believers. Of course studies of history show the opposite too, "casting doubt on the idea that religious belief is a “default setting” for humans".

I’ve even heard the argument that we are born believing everything anyone ever believed, and that as our brains develop, we go through long lists of innate beliefs and systematically eliminate whichever ones we no longer keep, until we whittle our way down to whatever we still believe as adults. Obviously that can’t be true. We can’t be convinced of a claim if we’ve never even heard it. The mind of a newborn infant is not yet capable of believing anything beyond what it perceives through its own senses, and even that has to be learned. So it is NOT the case that we must either believe "for" or believe "against". Instead we either have a belief or we don't. Neither could we choose not to take a position, because the lack of belief is the default position, and the only way to withhold judgement is not to believe. There are no other options.

We can tentatively accept what appears to be factually supported and call that belief, but that isn’t the same thing as religious belief, which is more akin to make-believe. Faith means believing things that are not evidently true, which often requires an act of will. Those beliefs have to be heard, understood and adopted, or made-up from our own imaginations. We are not born with beliefs. No child was ever born Mormon or Hindu or Zoroastrian, nor with any other form of theism. We were all born atheist, and we would likely remain so until someone lies to us.

I would have identified as atheist as a young boy, had I not been lied to so often by everyone I knew and the media too. I was Christian for a while, because I was told that God was a conclusively proven scientific fact, when that is really just baseless speculation assumed and asserted without warrant.

I had heard of atheists, but they were always cast as the least reasonable sort of person imaginable, closed-minded, cynical, evil, reality-denying nihilists. Now I realize that was all propaganda. Religious apologists had to misrepresent the unbelievers to keep people from recognizing free thought as preferable and superior. So I was told that “atheists believe in nothing” when (if they were honest) they should have said that atheists don’t believe anything only on faith. I was told that atheists are dower selfish and sinful devil-worshiping liars who were angry and depressed, perverted and hooked on drugs, all because they didn’t know Jesus. However I didn’t believe that because I knew too many Christians who fit almost all of those same descriptions at once.

However there is one lie about atheists that is so pervasive, that I was duped by it, and that was about what atheism is, what I'm talking about now. The fact that I was so mislead drives me to counter and correct that misdirection at every opportunity. It was the lie that one is either agnostic, because we can't actually prove that gods do or don't exist, or that we're atheist, excluding even the possibility of gods or anything else beyond what we can see or touch, just to be unreasonable. Even Carl Sagan was duped by the same lie that I was. Because he famously said that “An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid.”

Yes, that definition was deliberately designed to make atheism seem very stupid! A mutual friend, James Randi says that Sagan eventually understood what atheism really is, and that it applied to him.

It seems that "Darwin's Bulldog" Thomas Huxley must have heard some irritating arguments from his contemporaries, claiming perhaps that having just discovered all this evidence of evolution disproved the Bible and consequently disproved God. Now, I would say that I know that the Bible god doesn't exist, and that I know that to the same degree and for the same reasons that I know leprechauns don't exist. I've even met Christians who claim to know that leprechauns don't exist simply because (1) there is no evidence of them, and (2) everything we're told about them is impossible. So my dismissal of the Christian god is justified even by the standards of believers. But I understand why Huxley would have been annoyed at the notion that having natural explanations necessarily disproves even higher concepts of God than the one we find in the Bible.

Still, instead of correcting their reasoning, Huxley decided to distance himself from these other atheists by making up a new word, "agnostic", explaining that "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”. Note that this does not allow an agnostic to deny that lacking belief in a god means they are actually atheist.

Huxley's new word had no practical value, not for its intended purpose anyway, because he did not change the pre-existing definition of atheism. I’ll make up a new word myself to illustrate this. "Nosossary" means exactly the same thing that “unnecessary” already did, (something that isn’t needed) but my word also means that it doesn’t need to be eliminated either. We know that unnecessary already meant that too, but it’s not explicitly spelled out in the definition. So knowledge of my new word might prompt some philosophers to treat “unnecessary” as though it meant “something that must be eliminated”. They may even insist that it can only mean that and not what it originally did. That’s what “agnostic” does, tries to redefine atheism through association with a new word that only leads to a misuse of the old word.

To prove that, remember that Huxley invented his word, "agnostic" in 1869. So I looked up "atheism" in Websters 1828 Dictionary:

A'THEISM, noun
The disbelief of the existence of a God, or Supreme intelligent Being.


Once again, Webster was not a philosopher, so he did not apply philosophical definitions. Because this is a dictionary, we know exactly what he meant by the word "disbelief":

"Refusal of credit or faith; denial of belief."

Not denial of the claim, but denial of belief in the claim, That’s important. It also proves again that I’m right. Especially when we also look up "disbelieve".

Not to believe;
to hold not to be true or not to exist;
to refuse to credit.


So the common definition of 'atheism' 40 years before Huxley's attempted redefinition was already the same one that we're still using a century-and-a-half later than that too. Although there have been a few philosophers like Ernest Nagel, Paul Edwards and Kai Nielsen in the 20th century following Huxley's lead, vying for the rejection of God definition, while George H. Smith, Michael Martin, and Antony Flew argued for the continued inclusion of negative, weak and implicit atheism along with positive, strong, or explicit atheism.

Some antagonists have argued that the "lack of belief" definition that I and all the atheist orgs are using is the redefinition, and that the "denial of God" is the original, but they've got that turned around. One of my critics produced a Wikispeedia article from McGill School of Computer Science, which he insists proves me wrong. It differs from Wikipedia's own article on the history of atheism in that it gives the wrong primary definition.

Wikipedia says:
"Atheism (derived from the Ancient Greek ἄθεος atheos meaning "without gods; godless; secular; refuting or repudiating the existence of gods, especially officially sanctioned gods") is the absence of the belief that deities exist."

Wikispeedia says: "Atheism is the disbelief in the existence of God and other deities. It is commonly defined as the positive denial of theism (ie. the assertion that deities do not exist), or the deliberate rejection of theism (i.e., the refusal to believe in the existence of deities). However, others—including most atheistic philosophers and groups—define atheism as the simple absence of belief in deities (cf. nontheism), thereby designating many agnostics, and people who have never heard of gods, such as the unchurched or newborn children, as atheists as well. In recent years, some atheists have adopted the terms strong and weak atheism to clarify whether they consider their stance one of positive belief no gods exist, or of negative unbelief. Many self-described atheists share common skeptical concerns regarding empirical evidence for spiritual or supernatural claims. They cite a lack of evidence for the existence of deities."

I had said earlier that the first use of the first use of the Greek ἄθεος was a pejorative against Christians, because Christians didn't have centuries of theology like the Jews or the Hellenists did. Instead, Christians worshiped some guy, a mortal man whom the Romans had just recently killed. And the Christians used atheos pejoratively against the pagans too. However, the word is much older than I thought. Otherwise my critic's own source agrees with me completely. It says the word originally meant "godless", just as I said, but that "the word acquired an additional meaning in the 5th Century BCE, severing relations with the gods; that is, "denying the gods, ungodly".

Now moving from atheos to atheism:
"In antiquity, [the Greek ἄθεος "without god(s)] had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society, those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods. The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed. The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope."

No longer the pejorative that "atheos" had become, what did the new word, atheism mean to the people who willingly adopted that label?

In his book, The First Atheist: Matthias Knutzen's Writings and Legacy, translator Kirk Watson said:
"Knutzen became the first atheist known by name: i.e., the first person in modern times to write or proclaim themselves, publicly and without a pseudonym, an atheist. And when this positive atheism appeared, it carried the seeds of a whole civilization: along with the denial of God, much of the modern secular worldview (along with a foreshadowing of radical left political ideology), seems to have sprung fully-formed from Knutzen’s brain: in the same sentence as atheism he taught anarchism, sexual freedom, reliance on reason, secular education, and a humanistic society."

The funny thing is that I read all of Knutzen's works, as translated by Watson, but I noticed something very different, maybe because I'm one of those "radical leftist", free-love Humanist science education nerds that Watson seems to be so worried about. In all Knutzen's writings, he mentions the word 'atheist' only once [in German]. Regarding the question of whether he is an atheist and not a Christian. Knutzen replies “That is true; I believe in no God, nor do I accept your Bible, except to refute you:” Knutzen then adds “I also say that all priests and authority must be driven from the world, since people can live well without these things.” So Knutzen acquiesced that he is an atheist, in that he does not believe in any god or in the Bible either, but he prefers to identify as a Conscientarian. He goes on to describe himself as the author of a new religion which is not merely atheist in its lack of belief, but that his new religion “also” denies god, as well as the Bible and the Qur’an and all their associated clergy, believing instead in reason, or knowledge, which he summarizes as “conscience”.

"I say, we see the Bible as a neat fable, which offers enjoyment only to irrational beasts, that is, Christians, who bring their reason into captivity, and are intentionally irrational. In addition, we deny God, we utterly despise magistrates, rejecting the temples and all priests. For we Conscientarians are satisfied with the knowledge, not of one only, but require that of the many (Luke 24:39): See, etc., (εἷς enim ἀνὴρ οὐ πάνθ᾽ ὁρᾷ) and accept CONSCIENCE in conjunction with it. This is, our Conscience, was given to all by Nature, our good mother. This, for us, can serve in place of a Bible (Romans 2:14, 15), in place of the Magistrate, according to Gregory Nazianzus (vol. II, Orat. XV, in plagam grandinis pag. m. 447), it is the true tribunal, and replaces the priest, for it performs the duties of a learned Doctor, teaching us to harm none, to live honorably, and to give everyone their due. If we live wickedly, it will take the place of a thousand torments, and even of Hell: if we do what is right, it will be our Heaven during this one life we have. This same conscience is born with us, and it perishes with us at death. Those are our innate principles: whoever rejects them, rejects himself. I hope to be able to address this question at greater length another time. However, when it comes to the Christian articles of faith, my co-religionists and I always have these words ready:

LET THE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE IT,
THESE ANOINTED MEN AND WOMEN,
not me."


Matthias Knutzen; A Friendly Wish From A Friend To A Friend (1674)

As you can see, if atheism did not include a rejection of belief in the proposition of God, but was instead limited to a rejection of the proposition only, then it doesn't make for a very good argument, and significantly weakens the atheist position.

The “religion” Knutzen describes is not anything we would recognize as a religion today. Every religion universally accepted as such by both adherents and critics is a doctrine of ritual traditions, ceremonies, mythology, and the associated dogma of faith-based belief systems that all posit the idea that a supernatural essence of “self ” (be it a soul or consciousness, or memories, etc.) somehow transcends the death of the physical body to continue on in some other form. Knutzen doesn’t believe in any of that, but he does hold a belief. Rather than identify with mere atheism, lacking belief in any god, he promotes “Conscientianism”, which he says is also a positive belief that there is no god, what we call “strong” or “gnostic” atheism today. Although, I won’t use that term anymore. Instead, from here on, I may compare agnostic atheists to Conscientarian atheists instead.

Next came Philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), who is today commonly considered to have been atheist, though he did not use that label himself; probably because it was still pejorative and Knutzen did nothing to change that. Here the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy admits that their impractically exclusionary definition is too narrow to work in Hume's case.

"Given the more open-ended and inclusive nature of Hume’s outlook and aims, the label of “atheism” perhaps suggests a more narrow and doctrinaire position than Hume is comfortable with or concerned to champion. Granted that the label of “atheism” is in these respects potentially misleading, and that “scepticism” and “agnosticism” fail to properly identify and highlight Hume’s wholly hostile and critical attitude towards religious dogma and doctrine (in its orthodox forms), what alternative label is available to us? The most accurate and informative label for describing Hume’s views on this subject is perhaps irreligion."

How about you get back to the original and common definition of atheism, which literally means "irreligious"?

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy also explains why the narrow definition, being limited to "strong, hard, or explicit" atheism, of "having a belief that no god exists" is unworkable in the case of Hume.

"Given the comprehensive critique that Hume levels against religion, it is clear that he is not a theist in any traditional sense. However, acknowledging this point does little to settle Hume’s considered views on religion. There remain three positions open to Hume: atheist naturalism, skeptical agnosticism, or some form of deism. The first position has Hume denying any form of supernaturalism, and is much more popular outside of Hume scholarship than within. The reason for this is that it runs contrary to Hume’s attitude regarding speculative metaphysics. It has him making a firm metaphysical commitment by allowing an inference from our having no good reason for thinking that there are supernatural entities, to a positive commitment that in fact there are none. However, Hume would not commit the Epistemic Fallacy and thereby allow the inference from “x is all we can know of subject y” to “x constitutes the real, mind-independent essence of y.” Indeed, in Part XII of the first Enquiry, Hume explicitly denies the inference from what we can know from our ideas to what is the case in reality.
These considerations against a full-fledged atheist position motivate the skeptical view. While atheism saddles Hume with too strong a metaphysical commitment, the skeptical view also holds that he does not affirm the existence of any supernatural entities. This view has Hume doubting the existence of supernatural entities, but still allowing their possibility. It has the advantage of committing Hume to the sparse ontology of the naturalist without actually committing him to potentially dogmatic metaphysical positions. Hence, Hume can be an atheist for all intents and purposes without actually violating his own epistemic principles."


That's another problem with the restrictive philosophical definition of atheism. Rather that allow us to simply doubt the belief, we're saddled with making positively dogmatic metaphysical commitments, based only on a lack of information, which would be potentially fallacious. Rather than say, "I believe this baseless speculation I just made up", it would be better to say that "I DON'T believe the baseless speculation YOU just made up".

Although Matthias Knutzen is recognized as the first atheist, at least the first one who didn't deny the label, he didn't exactly wear it proudly. The first person to defend atheism as the preferred label of choice was Paul Henri Thiry (Baron d'Holbach) (1723-1789). Throughout his work on The System of Nature (1770), Baron d'Holbach used the word 'atheist' over and over again. Wherein he provided an in-depth description and defense of atheism in the broader sense of those who lack belief, whom he praised, and explicitly NOT those who reject the God proposal, whom he called "fools".

"This granted, we shall be competent to fix the sense that ought to be attached to the name of atheist; which, notwithstanding, the theologians lavish on all those who deviate in any thing from their opinions. If, by atheist, be designated a man who denieth the existence of a power inherent in matter, without which we cannot conceive nature, and if it be to this power that the name of God is given, then there do not exist any atheists, and the word under which they are denominated would only announce fools. But if by atheists be understood men without enthusiasm; who are guided by experience; who follow the evidence of their senses; who see nothing in nature but what they actually find to have existence, or that which they are capacitated to know; who neither do, nor can perceive any thing but matter essentially active, moveable, diversely combined, in the full enjoyment of various properties, capable of producing all the beings who display themselves to our visual faculties, if by atheists be understood natural philosophers, who are convinced that without recurring to chimerical causes, they can explain every thing, simply by the laws of motion; by the relation subsisting between beings; by their affinities; by their analogies; by their aptitude to attraction; by their repulsive powers; by their proportions; by their combinations; by their decomposition: if by atheists be meant these persons who do not understand what Pneumatology is, who do not perceive the necessity of spiritualizing, or of rendering incomprehensible, those corporeal, sensible, natural causes, which they see act uniformly; who do not find it requisite to separate the motive-power from the universe; who do not see, that to ascribe this power to an immaterial substance, to that whose essence is from thenceforth totally inconceivable, is a means of becoming more familiar with it: if by atheists are to be pourtrayed those men who ingenuously admit that their mind can neither receive nor reconcile the union of the negative attributes and the theological abstractions, with the human and moral qualities which are given to the Divinity; or those men who pretend that from such an incompatible alliance, there could only result an imaginary being; seeing that a pure spirit is destitute of the organs necessary to exercise the qualities, to give play to the faculties of human nature: if by atheists are described those men who reject systems, whose odious and discrepant qualities are solely calculated to disturb the human species—to plunge it into very prejudicial follies: if, I repeat it, thinkers of this description are those who are called atheists, it is not possible to doubt their existence; and their number would be considerable, if the light of sound natural philosophy was more generally diffused; if the torch of reason burnt more distinctly; or if it was not obscured by the theological bushel: from thence, however, they would be considered neither as irrational; nor as furious beings, but as men devoid of prejudice, of whose opinions, or if they prefer it, whose ignorance, would be much more useful to the human race, than those ideal sciences, those vain hypotheses, which for so many ages have been the actual causes of all man's tribulation.

Baron d'Holbach is known as the "father of atheism". He defined what atheism, and what it means to self-identify as an atheist. In his book, Good Sense (1772) Baron d'Holbach again explains that his atheism is not necessarily a rejection of the god proposition, but rather a lack of belief as the inevitable result of a lack of evidence or arguments providing any reason to believe.

"You say, that presumption alone makes Atheists. Inform them then what your God is; teach them his essence; speak of him intelligibly; say something about him, which is reasonable, and not contradictory or impossible. If you are unable to satisfy them, if hitherto none of you have been able to demonstrate the existence of a God in a clear and convincing manner; if by your own confession, his essence is completely veiled from you, as from the rest of mortals, forgive those, who cannot admit what they can neither understand nor make consistent with itself; do not tax with presumption and vanity those who are sincere enough to confess their ignorance; do not accuse of folly those who find themselves incapable of believing contradictions; and for once, blush at exciting the hatred and fury of sovereigns and people against men, who think not like you concerning a being, of whom you have no idea. Is any thing more rash and extravagant, than to reason concerning an object, known to be inconceivable?"

In the same book, the Baron goes even explains that, "All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God. Are they then criminal on account of their ignorance? At what age must they begin to believe in God? It is, you say, at the age of reason. But at what time should this age commence?"

I have argued this same thing myself!

Antagonists insist that atheism cannot exist except as a response to theism. But because the psychological condition of belief in God must be acquired and added to the prior position of being without that psychological condition of belief, then, just as asexual reproduction preceded sex, atheism, the absence of theism, necessarily pre-dates the invention of god-beliefs. Before anyone believed in gods, no one did. Everyone was atheist.

I've queried a number of people who accept this much, and then accept that children born into atheist societies would of course always have been atheist. It's not like they would have to wait until they hear, understand and reject the claims of theism first because they already don't believe in that. They're atheist to start with, and they're likely to stay that way. If they're atheist from birth, then there is no minimum level of cognition required to NOT have a god belief. Babies, kittens and rocks already don't have any psychological condition of believing in gods. You only need cognition in order to HAVE a belief.

The best I've ever yet seen was when someone shared a link to an article on How Not to Define 'Atheism' by Dr. Bill Vallicella, "The Maverick Philosopher", an actual philosophical scholar who explained that "atheism cannot be identified with the lack of theistic belief, i.e., the mere absence of the belief that God or a god exists, for that would imply that cabbages and tire irons are atheists."

So his argument is that atheism can't be what it is because then it would be the default position that it always has been. Get that? That’s the REASON he gives! That a lack of belief as the default position would lead to a logical conclusion that he doesn’t want to admit. That's not evidence, nor a reasoned argument either. That's just an admission of bias!

From there, his argument moves on to projection, flipping the tables to turn atheism into the proposition rather than theism. This is the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, demanding that the unbeliever disprove the negative rather than expect the believer to show the truth of his claim. Worse, this means that when we atheists say “I don't believe you", somehow THAT becomes a proposition, AND we're told that we have to provide a burden of proof to justify why we don’t believe you.

Why are we letting a Christian philosopher from a Catholic school redefine what atheism is?

I've heard many impressively bad arguments from antagonists in defense of their philosophy, and not even one good one. I should have kept a running list. One I remember was that it's not enough that you don't believe; you also have to believe that you don't believe! Why do they keep adding unnecessary criteria? Why do they insist on turning unbelievers into believers? I think that the reason is to keep the total number of atheists down to as few as possible.

How do you know whether some body or collective is theist or atheist? The test is simple.

Do they believe in any gods?
Yes = theist. No = atheist.


Everyone who answers yes is theistic, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindus, they're all theists and their numbers swell collectively. But look at every subdivision that can NOT answer yes to that question. Those are the atheists. The explicit hard atheist and the implicit soft atheist both answer the question of god belief the same way. Neither one believes. So are they all collectively recognized as unbelievers as they should be? No. instead the antagonists have created many artificially-contrived sub-categories to keep the non-believers divided and confused.

If you don’t believe in any gods because you don't have a brain or it hasn’t yet developed enough to entertain such farcical beliefs, then you’re not atheist, you a non-cognitivist. Because (for whatever illogical reason) you can’t be “without belief” until you’re ready and able to believe.

If you’re capable of belief, but you don’t believe in miraculous deities because you were lucky enough to live in a secular society where such silliness as gods and magic were never even mentioned, then you’re not atheist, you’re only an “innocent”. Because you can’t be “without theism” until you’ve had theism thrust upon you.

If you’ve heard the pitch for theism, but object to the question because the terms ‘god’ and ‘supernatural’, ‘immaterial’ and ‘miraculous’ all lack any sensible definition, then you’re not an atheist, you’re an igtheist. Because you can’t be an atheist until you know what the god is that you don’t believe in, even when the people who do believe in that god don’t know themselves what it is.

If you’ve heard and understood the arguments for divinity, but you just don’t care whether gods exist or not, you’re not atheist, you’re an apatheist. Because you can’t be atheist until you show enough interest to take a position, even when you're starting from the default position already.

If you’ve heard and understood the pitch for God, and you’re still not convinced, but you allow that some gods maybe could exist, by some definition perhaps, and you're sure you would change your mind if given good reason to, you’re still not an atheist then either; You’re only agnostic, which means almost the same thing as “soft atheism” already did, but you’re supposed to figure that out.

If you’ve heard and understood and considered the arguments for theism, yet you still have no belief, you’re still not atheist. You’re only a non-theist, which means exactly the same thing as “atheist” always did, but you’re not supposed to notice that either.

Finally, if you’ve heard and understood and considered the arguments for theism, yet not only do you still have no belief that it’s true, you actually have a belief that it’s false, well then you can’t really be an atheist then either, because there’s no way to know for sure that there’s no god, not without disproving an unfalsifiable negative.

However, the fact remains that none of the groups believes in any god. So they're all atheist. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy clarifies:

"It has come to be widely accepted that to be an atheist is to affirm the non-existence of God. Anthony Flew (1984) called this positive atheism, whereas to lack a belief that God or gods exist is to be a negative atheist. Parallels for this use of the term would be terms such as “amoral,” “atypical,” or “asymmetrical.” So negative atheism would include someone who has never reflected on the question of whether or not God exists and has no opinion about the matter and someone who had thought about the matter a great deal and has concluded either that she has insufficient evidence to decide the question, or that the question cannot be resolved in principle."

The whole and sole division of theism from atheism is to distinguish the godless from the godly, believers from unbelievers. Every theist in the world is playing a game of make-believe, and the only ones who aren't pretending are atheists. That is the utility and the value of using the proper definition rather than the unworkable unreasonable and ungainly debilitating definition of forcing unbelievers to believe in the rejection of the proposition instead of simply not assuming belief.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
I'd add a semantic note - which I think is entirely justified considering that this is exactly what these arguments reside on - that the prefix a- is a privative, denoting 'without' , absent' or 'not'; specifically it's the alpha privative:


An alpha privative or, rarely,[1] privative a (from Latin alpha prīvātīvum, from Ancient Greek α στερητικόν) is the prefix a- or an- (before vowels) that is used in Greek and in words borrowed from Greek to express negation or absence, for example the English words atypical, anesthetic, and analgesic.
So then we can compare this to how other words work.

If we say something is acellular, we are saying that the object is not comprised of, divided into, or containing cells; we are not saying what it IS comprised of.

If we say an organism is acephalic, we are saying that the organism doesn't possess a head; we are not saying what the organism DOES possess, only what it doesn't possess.

If we say an environment is anoxic, we are saying that the environment doesn't contain oxygen; we are not saying what other gases the environment DOES contain, only that it doesn't contain oxygen.


So similarly, when we say that someone is atheist, we are saying that they are without theism - the belief in gods. We are not saying anything about what beliefs they do possess, only specifying one belief they don't possess. As such, the position merely of being atheist cannot intrinsically entail any positive claims, which of course doesn't mean that atheists can't willingly or accidentally frame their position in terms of a claim, just that the term itself doesn't entail a burden of proof the same way that theism does.
 
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Balstrome

Member
I am walking along a road and someone stops me and says that there is a tarackaz in the road. I say that all I see is the road and nothing else. Must I prove that there is no tarackaz in the road first before I disprove that there is no tarackaz in the road?

Only once a tarackaz has been defined, only then do I have a choice whether to look to see if such a thing is in the road or not. Until then, whatever it will do or not do to me is irrelevant.
 

FelixChaser

New Member
If you Google ‘atheism’, you will see that the most common definition is “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” This is the common usage. Notice that Google also defines “disbelief” as “inability or refusal to accept that something is true or real”, not necessarily belief that it is false. The issue here is that some philosophers insist that 'disbelief' cannot simply mean that one is unconvinced that the claim is true; they argue that it must also be a conviction that the claim is not true. Similarly, some philosophers say that atheism cannot merely be the absence of belief that gods exist, but that it can only be the presence of belief that no gods exist.
I joined to reiterate a point I made on Twitter which is that I don't think we should consider dictionary entries to be definitive in this debate. Definitions vary between dictionaries and are subject to revision as language changes. That said, for what it's worth, the definition Aron presents as "common usage" isn't common to all dictionaries. In the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), atheism is defined as "disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God," with disbelief defined as "mental rejection of a statement or assertion; positive unbelief." The Collins definition of atheist (from the COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary) is: "a person who believes that there is no God." Similarly, the Routledge Dictionary of Philosophy (4th ed.) defines atheism as "disbelief in the existence of God" (p. 26) and contrasts it with the position of an agnostic, who "neither believes nor disbelieves in God" (p. 11). The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy acknowledges that there are multiple uses of the term, but it too begins its entry on atheism by defining it as "the belief that God—especially a personal, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God—does not exist" (p. 57). Likewise, in Philosophy of Religion A–Z, Quinn states that atheism "denies both that God or a particular kind of God or divinity exists" (p. 24), and Bowker’s Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions defines it as "disbelief in the existence of God." As I said, we need not take any of these dictionary entries as the "final say" on the matter, but they do somewhat challenge the assertion that the definition presented by Aron is "the common usage."

They cite the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as one of few sources to share their definition, even though it also says that “it is important to recognize that the term “atheism” is polysemous—i.e., it has more than one related meaning—even within philosophy.” Thus "weak atheism" (as a lack of belief) "is certainly a legitimate definition in the sense that it reports how a significant number of people use the term. Again, there is more than one “correct” definition of “atheism”."

That said, I have to point out two things the S.E.P. got wrong. One is where it supposes that: "If, “atheism” is defined in terms of theism and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God, then it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists." However, the original and still persistent consistent common standard definition cited by every one of the self-identifying atheist organizations is that Theism is the psychological condition of believing that one or more gods exist. Thus atheism is the absence of the psychological condition of believing that any gods exist.

The other error is where the SEP says that the philosophical redefinition "has the added virtue of making atheism a direct answer to one of the most important metaphysical questions in philosophy of religion, namely, “Is there a God?” There are only two possible direct answers to this question: “yes”, which is theism, and “no”, which is atheism." This is wrong. A detriment is not a virtue. The metaphysical question was never "is there a god?" That question was always "Do you BELIEVE in a god?"

The question of "does God exist" is a topic of idle philosophical pontification of no real consequence. Whether God exists or not is irrelevant. It changes nothing either way. All that matters is whether we believe there's a god.
With this, it sounds like Aron isn't at all interested in the metaphysical question of whether God exists or doesn't, but in some other question related to what follows from believing that God does exist. These are related but distinct questions, and the tone of Aron's piece suggests that his main concerns here are political. That's fine. I share those concerns, but I am also interested in the metaphysical question. That is, in addition to being concerned by what people do in light of what they believe, I am interested in the question itself and what the answer might be. Thus, like Draper, I use the term atheist to denote an answer to a particular question, not merely the state of believing or lacking belief in a particular answer. (The author of the previous SEP entry on atheism, J. J. C. Smart, also shared this definition.)

So if atheism is to denote an answer to a particular question, then how do we address the political side of things, something Aron, I, and many others care about? I think we can start, oddly enough, by deflating the credence of "atheism" as an identity label. This might seem counterintuitive, but when we accept that atheism is an answer to a particular question, we implicitly acknowledge that it doesn't necessarily answer other questions—it is constrained; one belief among many. This allows us to focus on other beliefs that people hold on other questions that are relevant to how they act. Beliefs about the separation of Church and State, for example, or the teaching of Creationism, etc. When we focus on these sorts of questions, it becomes clear that it's not a matter of atheists vs. theists, but of individuals who endorse a broadly secular outlook and those who do not. The upshot of this is that a secular outlook is flexible enough to accomodate individuals who don't necessarily share the atheist's answer to the metaphysical question of God's existence. It allows us to forge alliances with people who share different beliefs on the God question, but who share the same broad political concerns as we do.

And, in a way, this is already happening. In recent years, quite a few atheists have expressed "surprise" that they often find affinity with the religious right on issues of culture. This is not surprising at all; some atheists are right-wing and socially conservative, and they will advance the religious right's agenda even though they do not share its theological commitments. Similarly, many atheists are progressive and will happily work with secular-minded religious folk—individuals who are share our secular political goals but who would reject the label "atheist" as a descriptor for what they believe and what they aspire to. In short, it is possible to have a "broad church" ("church," lol), and I think that this is actually preferable if we are to have any hope of making meaningful change in the political sphere.

I'd add a semantic note - which I think is entirely justified considering that this is exactly what these arguments reside on - that the prefix a- is a privative, denoting 'without' , absent' or 'not'; specifically it's the alpha privative:




So then we can compare this to how other words work.

If we say something is acellular, we are saying that the object is not comprised of, divided into, or containing cells; we are not saying what it IS comprised of.

If we say an organism is acephalic, we are saying that the organism doesn't possess a head; we are not saying what the organism DOES possess, only what it doesn't possess.

If we say an environment is anoxic, we are saying that the environment doesn't contain oxygen; we are not saying what other gases the environment DOES contain, only that it doesn't contain oxygen.


So similarly, when we say that someone is atheist, we are saying that they are without theism - the belief in gods. We are not saying anything about what beliefs they do possess, only specifying one belief they don't possess. As such, the position merely of being atheist cannot intrinsically entail any positive claims, which of course doesn't mean that atheists can't willingly or accidentally frame their position in terms of a claim, just that the term itself doesn't entail a burden of proof the same way that theism does.
It's worth bearing in mind that etymology does not dictate use. And, in any case, this doesn't appear to be the correct etymology. This comes from a nice thread on the topic by wokeupabug (on reddit):

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 8.04.16 pm.png

... This is the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, demanding that the unbeliever disprove the negative rather than expect the believer to show the truth of his claim. Worse, this means that when we atheists say “I don't believe you", somehow THAT becomes a proposition, AND we're told that we have to provide a burden of proof to justify why we don’t believe you.
So similarly, when we say that someone is atheist, we are saying that they are without theism - the belief in gods. We are not saying anything about what beliefs they do possess, only specifying one belief they don't possess. As such, the position merely of being atheist cannot intrinsically entail any positive claims, which of course doesn't mean that atheists can't willingly or accidentally frame their position in terms of a claim, just that the term itself doesn't entail a burden of proof the same way that theism does.
What would be so bad about shouldering that burden? I think there's the fear that acknowledging any burden for justification would allow an obnoxious apologist to say, "Ha! See! Your position is based on faith also. You can't prove it!" I have seen some religious apologists try to do this, but I think the correct response here is not to eschew the burden for justification, but to explore what justification means and why one might be able to be reasonably confident without needing to "prove" something with perfect, unimpeachable certainty. I think we should have no qualms about justifying our views because we can justify them, and those who ask us to do so aren't necessarily being disingenuous, unlike the obnoxious apologist mentioned earlier. Some just want to know why we say what we say and why it might be reasonable to believe it.
 
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*SD*

Administrator
Staff member
Hi @FelixChaser - welcome to LoR forums. Just a quick note, if this is intended to be a debate thread, we can restrict it to just your self and AronRa (we would create an open thread for discussion of the debate which anyone can post to). Or if neither you nor AronRa mind others chipping in we can leave it right where it is. Either way, have a good discussion!
 

FelixChaser

New Member
Hi @FelixChaser - welcome to LoR forums. Just a quick note, if this is intended to be a debate thread, we can restrict it to just your self and AronRa (we would create an open thread for discussion of the debate which anyone can post to). Or if neither you nor AronRa mind others chipping in we can leave it right where it is. Either way, have a good discussion!
Thanks @*SD*. I had intended my reply to simply be a discussion point, so I'm very happy if others want to chime in as well. (I know better than to debate Aron! :D) Aron's post is quite comprehensive and, although I disagree with large parts of it, I'm hopeful that it'll generate some interesting discussion.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
What would be so bad about shouldering that burden?

There's no problem shouldering a burden of proof for a position you willingly elect to hold, but either accidentally falling into it, or having someone manipulate your argument to shift the burden of proof to you should be avoided.
 

AronRa

Administrator
Hi @FelixChaser - welcome to LoR forums. Just a quick note, if this is intended to be a debate thread, we can restrict it to just your self and AronRa (we would create an open thread for discussion of the debate which anyone can post to). Or if neither you nor AronRa mind others chipping in we can leave it right where it is. Either way, have a good discussion!
I'm not looking for a one-on-one debate. I want to hear from everyone with a worthy comment.
 

*SD*

Administrator
Staff member
Fair enough. This "argument" about the definition of atheism comes up too damn often for my liking. Not just here, but everywhere where people gather to discuss the general topic. Words only mean what we generally agree they mean. Yes, someone can have a proprietary definition, and that's not normally an issue, it only becomes one when the definition is too far outside of the generally accepted one. That usually involves the term being so broadened that it no longer signifies the very thing it's intended to mean. The definition you are using is entirely defensible, and you have cited many sources in support of that. Arguing about the definition of atheism is usually just a silly game some people like to play, definitions not commonly accepted, or just outright fuckery.

Sometimes, it's easier to just state what your view or position actually is, describe it, and then use a made up word for it.

"My position is this... {insert position} - use whatever word you like as long as it's not a word that already exists and already has a widely accepted definition"

Can I call that position "Flibbidy-bibbidy-boo-ism?"

Yes, as long as every time either of us uses that term we're referencing what my {already stated} position actually is.
 
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FelixChaser

New Member
No one's mentioned etymology.

We're talking about how the prefix works in English today.
I'm not sure how you can discuss how the prefix "a-" works without discussing etymology, and the argument in your post—wherein you compare to words like "acellular," "acephalic," and "anoxic"—certainly seems like it's based on etymology. The trouble with this is that etymology isn't always obvious (e.g., "acerbic" is not "without cerbic") and usage isn't straightforwardly dependent on a word's origins anyway, so I don't think we can compare to how other "a-" words work to get at the meaning.
 

*SD*

Administrator
Staff member
To be fair, nobody has claimed that any word beginning with the letter "a" signifies the absence of the "word" (should it even be one) after the "A".

"After" is not the absence of "fter" because "fter" isn't a word.
 

he_who_is_nobody

Active Member
With this, it sounds like Aron isn't at all interested in the metaphysical question of whether God exists or doesn't, but in some other question related to what follows from believing that God does exist. These are related but distinct questions, and the tone of Aron's piece suggests that his main concerns here are political. That's fine. I share those concerns, but I am also interested in the metaphysical question. That is, in addition to being concerned by what people do in light of what they believe, I am interested in the question itself and what the answer might be. Thus, like Draper, I use the term atheist to denote an answer to a particular question, not merely the state of believing or lacking belief in a particular answer. (The author of the previous SEP entry on atheism, J. J. C. Smart, also shared this definition.)
As of right now, is there any way to answer that metaphysical question beyond stating what one believes? And if there is not, then perhaps the "political" answer AronRa has given is the accurate one for current discussions about deities.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
I'm not sure how you can discuss how the prefix "a-" works without discussing etymology,...
With ease because etymology is concerned with the historical origin of words or the way words have changed, not their usage in a contemporary language which was clearly what I was talking about.


and the argument in your post—wherein you compare to words like "acellular," "acephalic," and "anoxic"—certainly seems like it's based on etymology.
Can I suggest going and looking up what the term "etymology" means, because you seem to be using it in an idiosyncratic way?


The trouble with this is that etymology isn't always obvious (e.g., "acerbic" is not "without cerbic") and usage isn't straightforwardly dependent on a word's origins anyway, so I don't think we can compare to how other "a-" words work to get at the meaning.
Again, not etymology, you can see that I made no mention of any word's root or historical changes.

The word 'acerbic' contains no prefix, so I have no idea why this is meant to be relevant as it has no bearing whatsoever on words that start with an a- prefix, no more than the word 'apple' contains a prefix - we're not talking about words that merely begin with the letter 'a'. I am pretty confident none of this confusion originates in my post.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
Look up:
Flammable
Inflammable
What does the, 'In' mean?
To answer this - although I am really not sure what this has to do with anything in the thread - one does actually have to look at etymology - the history of the evolution of words, particularly with respect to them entering a language.

A clarifying account is in the Merriam Webster:

Combustible and incombustible are opposites, but flammable and inflammable are synonyms. How can that be? The in- of incombustible is a common prefix meaning "not," but the in- of inflammable is a different prefix. Inflammable, which dates back to 1605, descends from Latin inflammare ("to inflame"), itself from in- (here meaning "in" or "into") plus flammare ("to flame"). Flammable also comes from flammare but didn't enter English until 1813. In the early 20th century, firefighters worried that people might think inflammable meant "not able to catch fire," so they adopted flammable and nonflammable as official safety labels and encouraged their use to prevent confusion. In general use, flammable is now the preferred term for describing things that can catch fire, but inflammable is still occasionally used with that meaning as well.
 

BrachioPEP

Moderator
BrachioPEP said:

Look up:
Flammable
Inflammable
What does the, 'In' mean?



Sparhafoc said:

[Question] I am really not sure what this has to do with anything in the thread [Answer] one does actually have to look at etymology


The immediate preceding posts were discussing etymology (I think you have now have used the word more than anyone or several times) and preceding letters (like, ‘a’) to words. I posited a useful/interesting example that has both. The question (what does the, ‘in’ mean) was rhetorical as most people would likely know what a dictionary is and would use one to find the answer if they so wished.

Beyond that, my apologies for detailing the thread.
 

FelixChaser

New Member
With ease because etymology is concerned with the historical origin of words or the way words have changed, not their usage in a contemporary language which was clearly what I was talking about.




Can I suggest going and looking up what the term "etymology" means, because you seem to be using it in an idiosyncratic way?




Again, not etymology, you can see that I made no mention of any word's root or historical changes.

The word 'acerbic' contains no prefix, so I have no idea why this is meant to be relevant as it has no bearing whatsoever on words that start with an a- prefix, no more than the word 'apple' contains a prefix - we're not talking about words that merely begin with the letter 'a'. I am pretty confident none of this confusion originates in my post.
If we are talking about their usage in language, then your previous post—comparing "atheism" to "acellular," "acephalic," and "anoxic"—doesn't make sense. The only thing those words have in common is the "a-." But if your argument isn't etymological, then that doesn't matter.
As of right now, is there any way to answer that metaphysical question beyond stating what one believes? And if there is not, then perhaps the "political" answer AronRa has given is the accurate one for current discussions about deities.
I'm not sure I understand your question. In attempting to answer the metaphysical question, is one not stating what they believe the answer to be?
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
Sparhafoc said:

[Question] I am really not sure what this has to do with anything in the thread [Answer] one does actually have to look at etymology


The immediate preceding posts were discussing etymology (I think you have now have used the word more than anyone or several times) and preceding letters (like, ‘a’) to words.
They weren't discussing etymology: those posts were denying that etymology is relevant or had anything to do with the prior point. Each time I've used the word - aside from to you - was to point out that the content of my post had nothing to do with etymology.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
If we are talking about their usage in language, then your previous post—comparing "atheism" to "acellular," "acephalic," and "anoxic"—doesn't make sense. The only thing those words have in common is the "a-."
I am sorry, but I really don't follow or even understand what you're trying to argue.

Talking about the words 'acellular', 'acephalic' and 'anoxic' as they're used in the modern English language as a comparison for how the a- prefix is used wouldn't make sense if we were talking about etymology, but it does make sense when we're looking at what the prefix a- means in the modern English language.

Of course the only thing they have in common is the a- prefix - that's exactly the point I was making and it's clearly written in my post that these further exemplify the meaning of the a- prefix in modern English to provide comparative examples for how we should read the a- prefix in the word 'atheism'.


I'd add a semantic note - which I think is entirely justified considering that this is exactly what these arguments reside on - that the prefix a- is a privative, denoting 'without' , absent' or 'not'; specifically it's the alpha privative:



So then we can compare this to how other words work.

If we say something is acellular, we are saying that the object is not comprised of, divided into, or containing cells; we are not saying what it IS comprised of.

If we say an organism is acephalic, we are saying that the organism doesn't possess a head; we are not saying what the organism DOES possess, only what it doesn't possess.

If we say an environment is anoxic, we are saying that the environment doesn't contain oxygen; we are not saying what other gases the environment DOES contain, only that it doesn't contain oxygen.


So similarly, when we say that someone is atheist, we are saying that they are without theism - the belief in gods. We are not saying anything about what beliefs they do possess, only specifying one belief they don't possess. As such, the position merely of being atheist cannot intrinsically entail any positive claims, which of course doesn't mean that atheists can't willingly or accidentally frame their position in terms of a claim, just that the term itself doesn't entail a burden of proof the same way that theism does.
Bolded to highlight.
 
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