What is Atheism?

FelixChaser

New Member
So, having read the OP by AronRa, I'm wondering what your issue really is here.
Clarity largely. I find the "lack of belief" definition far too murky to be desirable for general use.
And also wondering why you didn't respond to my earlier post about just laying down the position and then using any word you want for it? Is it just the word atheism that bothers you? Which word would you prefer to use for someone who neither believes in the existence of, nor claims to have knowledge of the existence of anything which could reasonably be referred to as a God?
The word atheist is fine if the question is about belief/disbelief. What anyone "claims to know" is irrelevant. It would be odd if every question about what someone believes regarding a particular topic also required that they give an answer about whether they "claim to know."
I think I see my mistake and I am sorry for being unclear. I am asking how we would go about determining there is a god(s), this is a separate question of whether or not someone believes in it. I can demonstrate that evolution is true regardless of whether or not the person I am talking to believes it or not. Is there a way to do the same for a deity(s)?
Yes, it's the same way we "demonstrate" anything—through the application of argument and evidence, discussion, study, etc.
 

*SD*

Administrator
Staff member
Clarity largely. I find the "lack of belief" definition far too murky to be desirable for general use.
What is murky about this? I fail to understand why it's murky. Seems fairly clear to me. What's confusing about lacking a belief in something? Presumably (feel free to correct me if I'm misrepresenting you, by all means) you lack a belief in screaming blue ants? I don't see how it would be in any way murky to state that.
 

BrachioPEP

Moderator
Sparhafoc said:

They weren't discussing etymology:



Sparhafoc then said:

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.



Some thought and mentioned its relevance and others (in discourse) disagreed, so I think it is clear that it didn't, have nothing to do with ANYTHING in the thread, did it? And if it made someone scratch their head, then that's a good thing, right?

This is discussion. Would, ‘mention’ or, ‘refute’ or, ‘argue for/against the word’ be better? I aim to please and don’t seek to bicker and happy to drop this now.

This, in addition to what I aid in my last post on the thread.

I invite yourself or anyone to ignore any post that does not interest you or that you feel is irrelevant or going off track or to report any abuse.
 

FelixChaser

New Member
Okay, so what evidence, study, etc. are there?
Evidence for what? What is it that you are asking evidence for?
What is murky about this? I fail to understand why it's murky. Seems fairly clear to me. What's confusing about lacking a belief in something? Presumably (feel free to correct me if I'm misrepresenting you, by all means) you lack a belief in screaming blue ants? I don't see how it would be in any way murky to state that.
It's murky because it results in conflations between positions that we might want to distinguish. For instance, it conflates atheism with nontheism, a superordinate category that we might wish to divide up in different segments based on the various positions one could take on the question under consideration (e.g., atheists, agnostics, innocents, etc).
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
The very link you provided in your post explaining a- indicated that it was a Greek-derived term and I don't see how saying that your were talking about words that inherited that prefix in our language is in any way a mischaracterisation—you were.
That was a citation of Wikipedia explaining what the alpha privative is. Neither the reason that I cited nor any of my argument was concerned or connected with etymology. So you are still arguing with me to tell me what my argument is. This is ridiculous now.

You claimed I was making an etymological argument - I made no such argument at all. Not a single thing I wrote was concerned with the linguistic history or etynological root of the prefix and I am pretty sure that anyone reading would see that it has nothing to do with my point at all.

Rather, what it shows is what the a- prefix means in English, and it means 'without' - it's a privative.





Yes, my chosen excerpt is specific to the popular sense; I thought that was clear.
It doesn't trouble you that from the entry you cited, you needed to elide half a sentence - around 10% of the paragraph, and the rest of the paragraph contradicts you?


This seems somewhat circular to me, particularly the last sentence. Knowledge is a subset of belief, so it seems odd to talk of "knowledge available to justify belief." Ignoring Gettier cases, if we take knowledge to be justified true belief, the sentence reads as "I also believe there is justified true belief available to justify believing." Maybe it's just a phrasing issue though and if you rephrased it I'd understand what you mean better.
At this point, I will be frank - I don't believe you would understand it. More specifically, I think you'd work to not understand it.


I'm not sure why what Huxley said should really matter?
Of course you aren't.


Just as etymology does not dictate use, ...
So you DO know what an etymological argument is, and yet you've just spent half a dozen posts mischaracterizing my post as being an etymological argument.



...the person who coins a term doesn't get exclusive say over its usage.
Which of course is not what I said. Rather, as I am sure everyone else reading can detect, I challenged your claim that the term agnosticism has come to mean something which, factually, it always meant.

Although some now use "agnostic" as a modifier for "atheist" (e.g., "agnostic atheist"), I don't think this makes much sense

"Some now" - no, it's always meant that, regardless of public understanding of the term.

And it makes perfect sense as I explained.


.The latter case would even seem to be a genetic fallacy.
No, it wouldn't given that you had claimed a historical account that is false and I challenged that by pointing you to the origin of the term, what the originator of that term said, and consequently showed that the term has always been plausibly inclusive of atheism.


Why would they not be "atheists," per the definition given? I don't think it's a "category error"; I think it's a flaw in the definition and it seems like special pleading to say "It means thus..." and then to add, "But not in such and such cases." Why not in such cases? Nothing in the definition itself precludes it.
It's hardly special fucking pleading to not include rocks in a set of things that are atheist. :D

It's not 'in such and such cases' but when defining or ascribing philosophical positions to things, I don't think anyone serious would mistakenly believe we're meant to include inanimate objects in that definition, or specific their exclusion, given that they can't hold *any* philosophical positions.

Why not such cases? Really? Because they're rocks. The definition obviously precludes it because we're talking about 'ism' and 'ist' which are suffixes denoting participation, belief, or adherence to a philosophy, theory, religion etc. - none of which rocks can be included in given the do not possess the ability to participate, believe or adhere to ideas. It's a category mistake to attempt to claim so.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
But they can lack beliefs, as indeed they do.
There's the category mistake.

Rocks can't 'lack beliefs' because there's no way in which they could possess beliefs; they simply do not have the property of belief.


A category mistake, or category error, or categorical mistake, or mistake of category, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category,[1] or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property.

Of the set of humans, many possess a belief in the existence of gods. Some subset of the set 'humans' possess no belief in the existence of gods. This isn't analogous to rocks.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
They don't lack something they aren't capable of possessing in the first place. It's like saying rivers lack penises. Technically true, but so trivial it barely warrants a response, and I'm reasonably confident you know how silly this is.
It's actually a bit worse than that. It's more like if you were to say 'possession of a penis and testes is definitive of being male', then taking the absence of that in rivers to then suggest that the argument means that rivers are female. I don't think it's remotely reasonable to argue that one must set out an exhaustive list of all the things one doesn't mean when one is obviously talking about a set of things - in this case, living organisms. It's not even pedantry - it's wilful obfuscation.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
Some thought and mentioned its relevance and others (in discourse) disagreed, ...
Not an accurate rendition at all.


so I think it is clear that it didn't, have nothing to do with ANYTHING in the thread, did it?
It has nothing to do with the thread. It's a red herring and a mischaracterization of the original argument.


And if it made someone scratch their head, then that's a good thing, right?
No, absolutely not. Obfuscation isn't enlightening.


This is discussion. Would, ‘mention’ or, ‘refute’ or, ‘argue for/against the word’ be better? I aim to please and don’t seek to bicker and happy to drop this now.

This, in addition to what I aid in my last post on the thread.
*scratches head*


I invite yourself or anyone to ignore any post that does not interest you or that you feel is irrelevant or going off track or to report any abuse.

A Gnat flew over the meadow with much buzzing for so small a creature and settled on the tip of one of the horns of a Bull. After he had rested a short time, he made ready to fly away. But before he left he begged the Bull's pardon for having used his horn for a resting place.

"You must be very glad to have me go now," he said.

"It's all the same to me," replied the Bull. "I did not even know you were there."
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
It's murky because it results in conflations between positions that we might want to distinguish. For instance, it conflates atheism with nontheism, a superordinate category that we might wish to divide up in different segments based on the various positions one could take on the question under consideration (e.g., atheists, agnostics, innocents, etc).
Alternatively, it's not actually murky. Plausibly, you find it murky but there's no suggestion that others here do, and consequently that wouldn't suggest that everyone else would need to reorder their existing understanding to make it clear for you.

Atheism and non-theism are already conflated through their shared absence of belief in gods, just as Hinduism and Christianity can be conflated in the "superordinate category" of 'theism' - belief in the existence of god(s) - regardless of the fact that they hold different details of belief. No one would be confused by this.
 

FelixChaser

New Member
That was a citation of Wikipedia explaining what the alpha privative is. Neither the reason that I cited nor any of my argument was concerned or connected with etymology. So you are still arguing with me to tell me what my argument is. This is ridiculous now.

You claimed I was making an etymological argument - I made no such argument at all. Not a single thing I wrote was concerned with the linguistic history or etynological root of the prefix and I am pretty sure that anyone reading would see that it has nothing to do with my point at all.

Rather, what it shows is what the a- prefix means in English, and it means 'without' - it's a privative.
Fine, call it not an etymological argument then. I see no plausible way to argue what you argued without etymology, since your choice of examples relies on an understanding of the same meaning of a- being used throughout the history of those words, and your own source tells us that history. It seems bizarre to even mention it at all if the intention isn't to argue from the word's lineage.
It doesn't trouble you that from the entry you cited, you needed to elide half a sentence - around 10% of the paragraph, and the rest of the paragraph contradicts you?
Why would it bother me that I selected the relevant information? If you want me to say that "agnostic" has multiple senses then, yes, I agree, it does. But since even you recognised that I was referring to the popular usage, it seems odd to then ask, "Well, why didn't you mention all these other usages as well?"
At this point, I will be frank - I don't believe you would understand it. More specifically, I think you'd work to not understand it.
That's quite uncharitable. I suspect you are working from idiosyncratic definitions of "belief" and "knowledge," particularly given your signature: "Beliefs are, by definition, things we don't know to be true." Isn't knowledge a subset of belief?
So you DO know what an etymological argument is, and yet you've just spent half a dozen posts mischaracterizing my post as being an etymological argument.
In my one my very first posts, I said that etymology does not dictate use. In fact, I'm fairly sure I've repeated that exact phrase at least a couple of times. How are you only noticing this now?
No, it wouldn't given that you had claimed a historical account that is false and I challenged that by pointing you to the origin of the term, what the originator of that term said, and consequently showed that the term has always been plausibly inclusive of atheism.
The origin of the term—yes, that's a genetic fallacy.
It's hardly special fucking pleading to not include rocks in a set of things that are atheist. :D

It's not 'in such and such cases' but when defining or ascribing philosophical positions to things, I don't think anyone serious would mistakenly believe we're meant to include inanimate objects in that definition, or specific their exclusion, given that they can't hold *any* philosophical positions.
Is "lack of belief" a position or the lack of a position?
Why not such cases? Really? Because they're rocks. The definition obviously precludes it because we're talking about 'ism' and 'ist' which are suffixes denoting participation, belief, or adherence to a philosophy, theory, religion etc. - none of which rocks can be included in given the do not possess the ability to participate, believe or adhere to ideas. It's a category mistake to attempt to claim so.
Yes! Participation, belief, commitment—exactly. Not lack of "participation, belief, commitment." That's exactly the definition I think we ought to use.
There's the category mistake.

Rocks can't 'lack beliefs' because there's no way in which they could possess beliefs; they simply do not have the property of belief.
Like atheists who, per the "lack of belief" definition, also do not have the property of belief.
They don't lack something they aren't capable of possessing in the first place. It's like saying rivers lack penises. Technically true, but so trivial it barely warrants a response, and I'm reasonably confident you know how silly this is.
Yes, but we aren't talking about defining rivers by the lack of penises, are we? That would be a terrible definition for a river because, while rivers do lack penises (well, most of the time?), that in itself is not what makes a river. Similarly, while atheists lack belief in God, I hold that that isn't necessarily what makes an atheist. By contrast. believing that there is no God, as a definition, entails lack of belief. The virtue of specificity is a saving grace.
Alternatively, it's not actually murky. Plausibly, you find it murky but there's no suggestion that others here do, and consequently that wouldn't suggest that everyone else would need to reorder their existing understanding to make it clear for you.
I'm not suggesting that they need to. People can and will refer to themselves however they please. I'm just laying out what I see as a better definition on the grounds of clarity and specificity.
Atheism and non-theism are already conflated through their shared absence of belief in gods, just as Hinduism and Christianity can be conflated in the "superordinate category" of 'theism' - belief in the existence of god(s) - regardless of the fact that they hold different details of belief. No one would be confused by this.
That one is a subset of the other (atheism a subset of nontheism) doesn't equate to conflation. Conflation would be equating atheism with nontheism and thereby conflating the former with subordinate categories that are nontheist but not atheist (e.g., calling agnostics "atheists" even when they insist on making a distinction).
 

*SD*

Administrator
Staff member
This is becoming really confusing, at least to me anyway. I don't see why it needs to be. Multiple sources have been cited in defence of the definition espoused in the OP. They are also the common usage and what practically everyone means when they use the word.

I was hesitant to bring this in because it's introducing new terms, but I'm going to anyway. Many atheists (I'm referring here to the ones who 'debate' and are interested in this general topic, not just people who happen to be atheists) use the terms 'weak' and 'strong' atheism. Also 'hard' and 'soft' atheism (different words for the same concept) So weak would be not believing in any Gods, but not believing that there aren't any. Strong would be 'actively' believing that there aren't any. What are your thoughts on these terms and the concepts that they refer to?
 

FelixChaser

New Member
This is becoming really confusing, at least to me anyway. I don't see why it needs to be. Multiple sources have been cited in defence of the definition espoused in the OP. They are also the common usage and what practically everyone means when they use the word.
I completely disagree that it is "the common usage." Maybe in online and activist circles, yes; maybe even in the US. But whenever I have discussed anything related to religion in public, "in real life," the lack-of-belief usage has been virtually absent. This may be peculiar to the Australian cultural context (I'm from Australia), although I have heard Europeans say the same. That's all anecdotal though. A more serious challenge to the assertion that lack-of-belief is the common usage are the dictionary entries I presented in my first post. Several common and specialist dictionaries define atheism in terms other than lack-of-belief. Absent any reliable data on which usage predominates, I think it's entirely premature to declare lack-of-belief as the common usage, particularly given indications that alternative usages are at least as prevalent and show no signs of disappearing from the language.
I was hesitant to bring this in because it's introducing new terms, but I'm going to anyway. Many atheists (I'm referring here to the ones who 'debate' and are interested in this general topic, not just people who happen to be atheists) use the terms 'weak' and 'strong' atheism. Also 'hard' and 'soft' atheism (different words for the same concept) So weak would be not believing in any Gods, but not believing that there aren't any. Strong would be 'actively' believing that there aren't any. What are your thoughts on these terms and the concepts that they refer to?
I've seen this used as well, and I think it's an improvement on "agnostic atheist," which, as I've said, I think causes confusion. My half-assed speculation is that many atheists are worried about how to respond when obnoxious religious apologists challenge them to "prove" things. This is a legitimate worry, because often it seems like the apologist is trying to set a trap. One motivation, perhaps, for using labels like "agnostic atheist" is to spring that trap. It's a preemptive move, designed to deflect unwarranted assertions that one is absurdly over-confident in one's views: "You can't say that; I'm an agnostic, which in this case means I don't 'claim to know'." I can understand this motivation, because who hasn't dealt with unreasonable demands from apologists? But, if that's the motivation, I don't think it works. An uncharitable apologist is likely to misconstrue your position anyway, and using a label against them ("agnostic atheist") isn't going to stop them from doing that. Does "weak" and "soft" work better? Depending on exactly what it means, I think it might. Again, it won't necessarily stop an apologist from misconstruing your views, but it might just make it harder for them to convince others that they've characterised your views correctly, which is important as far as credibility goes.
 

*SD*

Administrator
Staff member
I completely disagree that it is "the common usage." Maybe in online and activist circles, yes; maybe even in the US. But whenever I have discussed anything related to religion in public, "in real life," the lack-of-belief usage has been virtually absent. This may be peculiar to the Australian cultural context (I'm from Australia), although I have heard Europeans say the same. That's all anecdotal though. A more serious challenge to the assertion that lack-of-belief is the common usage are the dictionary entries I presented in my first post. Several common and specialist dictionaries define atheism in terms other than lack-of-belief. Absent any reliable data on which usage predominates, I think it's entirely premature to declare lack-of-belief as the common usage, particularly given indications that alternative usages are at least as prevalent and show no signs of disappearing from the language.
I'm not one to rail against anecdotes just for the sake of it, especially since I'm about to offer one of my own. This isn't horn tooting, so please don't take it as such, I don't claim to be an expert in anything relevant to 'The God Debate' nor do I hold any formal qualifications in anything relevant to it, but I have been interested in it for a very long time. In excess of 15 years by now, watched/listened to and partaken in countless debates, done an awful lot of reading and generally put in the wrench time. I have hardly ever come across anyone, other than such apologists like the ones you describe in your other paragraph, who uses the term any differently to how we're using it here (and indeed the OP). Post edited to add - Those, and small groups of 'highly philosophical' non believers like Steve McRae. The issue is, most definitions found in the SEP and IEP are going to be different to those found in 'normal' dictionaries, because 'philosophical' definitions almost always are. But most people don't use those sources, most people use regular dictionaries. Even McRae is on record as saying there's nothing wrong with the way we're using it, he's basically just arguing that different definitions are available. But nobody is disputing that other definitions exist, we're just saying the one we're using is entirely defensible, and is the common usage. You disagree, there probably isn't a whole lot we can do about that.

Genuinely, the only people who want to play this game (that's not an insult btw) are those who want to woolify and obfuscate, greasy tactics to claim that 'it's not possible to be an atheist' - 'there is no such thing as an atheist' - 'atheism is incoherent' - and other such nonsense. I know none of those things are what you're arguing, but this sort of thing is pretty much the only time I see any quibbling over atheism simply meaning a lack of belief in any Gods. I don't believe any of the Gods I've ever heard about exist, so I'm an atheist. As for the 'hard' atheist part, I do happen to be one, I'm currently quite satisfied that there are no Gods, based on the research I've done. I'm open to evidence and argument, but that's another discussion.

Your experience is vastly different to mine, you think the usage we're applying is not the common usage, my experience is the polar opposite - I'm not sure how we can adjudicate or otherwise resolve this experiential chasm.
 
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he_who_is_nobody

Active Member
Evidence for what? What is it that you are asking evidence for?
I have never seen a reason to act obtuse in a discussion, probably because I can admit when I am wrong. I have noticed that acting obtuse is one of the last holdouts for someone that knows they are wrong but cannot admit it. The next is to argue for solipsism.

So, since the thread is, What is an Atheist? And my only questions before this was asking about deities one can deduce that I must be asking about gods. But for the obtuse reading this: What evidence or studies are there for deities?
 

FelixChaser

New Member
I have never seen a reason to act obtuse in a discussion, probably because I can admit when I am wrong. I have noticed that acting obtuse is one of the last holdouts for someone that knows they are wrong but cannot admit it. The next is to argue for solipsism.

So, since the thread is, What is an Atheist? And my only questions before this was asking about deities one can deduce that I must be asking about gods. But for the obtuse reading this: What evidence or studies are there for deities?
I am not being obtuse; you are being vague to the point where I don't know what you are asking—hence my request for clarification. Now you've clarified that you are asking for evidence of deities. I have no idea why you are asking me this though. Given the nature of this forum, I presume you're already aware of the numerous ways in which theists have argued for the existence of God? I'm an atheist, so I don't think any of the arguments succeed, but since your question is about arguments, evidence, etc. for deities, presumably that fits the bill?
Genuinely, the only people who want to play this game (that's not an insult btw) are those who want to woolify and obfuscate, greasy tactics to claim that 'it's not possible to be an atheist' - 'there is no such thing as an atheist' - 'atheism is incoherent' - and other such nonsense. I know none of those things are what you're arguing, but this sort of thing is pretty much the only time I see any quibbling over atheism simply meaning a lack of belief in any Gods. I don't believe any of the Gods I've ever heard about exist, so I'm an atheist. As for the 'hard' atheist part, I do happen to be one, I'm currently quite satisfied that there are no Gods, based on the research I've done. I'm open to evidence and argument, but that's another discussion.

Your experience is vastly different to mine, you think the usage we're applying is not the common usage, my experience is the polar opposite - I'm not sure how we can adjudicate or otherwise resolve this experiential chasm.
It may very well be partly a cultural chasm. The US is extremely religious for a Western democracy and atheists have very little in the way of political power, while also facing significant stigma, particularly in certain parts of the country. This environment might be conducive to the sort of usage you see as common. Regarding philosophical nonbelievers, I would prefer it if more nonbelievers were philosophical in how they approach these discussions, particularly if they want to talk about the ontological question. It seems that taking that question seriously makes philosophy inescapable. But not everyone is interested in that question and that's fine. The label "atheist" is inevitably going to come up in all sorts of discussions, many of them having nothing to do with the narrower question of God's existence. So some flexibility is warranted here, I think, to allow for multiple usages as needed in different contexts.
 

he_who_is_nobody

Active Member
I am not being obtuse; you are being vague to the point where I don't know what you are asking—hence my request for clarification. Now you've clarified that you are asking for evidence of deities. I have no idea why you are asking me this though. Given the nature of this forum, I presume you're already aware of the numerous ways in which theists have argued for the existence of God? I'm an atheist, so I don't think any of the arguments succeed, but since your question is about arguments, evidence, etc. for deities, presumably that fits the bill?
I was never in doubt that you were an atheist, but you stated that you were interested in the metaphysical question of a god(s) existence. Thus, I was curious to know if you have thought of a way to answer that question since we both agree theists have failed at it.
 

FelixChaser

New Member
I was never in doubt that you were an atheist, but you stated that you were interested in the metaphysical question of a god(s) existence. Thus, I was curious to know if you have thought of a way to answer that question since we both agree theists have failed at it.
And I gave you the answer to that general question: "through the application of argument and evidence, discussion, study, etc," the same as in other domains and for other questions. If you want to talk about specific arguments, pieces of evidence, discussion points, and so on, then this isn't the thread for it; no specific argument relating to the question of God's existence is under consideration here.
 
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