Let’s Define Atheism

It seems important that I describe exactly what I mean when I say “atheism” because there seem to be a lot of people who either don’t use the term properly or simply do not understand what it means.  Far too many people want to use the term as a wedge, designed to drive people into pre-determined boxes, to one side or another of an issue, etc.  Therefore, we must  be clear on what atheism means and why.

Atheism is, quite simply, the answer to a single question:  “Do you believe in a god?”  If you answer yes, you are a theist.  If you have any other answer, including “no”, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”, you are an atheist.  Atheism does not mean the positive belief that no god(s) exist, although certainly it can.  Belief is an active state, disbelief or lack of belief is not necessarily so.  We’re working toward being inclusive.

Therefore, attempting to come here and argue that atheists must “believe god(s) aren’t real” or “need to prove there are no god(s)” is an immediate non-starter.  I no more have to prove god(s) don’t exist than I have to prove ghosts or unicorns don’t exist.  The proponents of those views haven’t met their burden of proof, thus I disbelieve their claims.

It’s as simple as that.

24 thoughts on “Let’s Define Atheism

  1. Theist is the person who believes in “god”- for the majority of people “god” is the person of the monotheist tradition,who created the humans for shepherding them.The anonimous creator of the Universe is not interesting for the masses of the believers.So “theist” is simply the fashionable word.

  2. This is absolutely a great article that describes the exact meaning of certain words as it can help many who don’t use certain terms properly or who use them unnecessarily without proper understanding. It can also help them recognize the importance of God in all our lives.

    1. Have to agree with Cephus here. You seem to have the impression that agnosticism is a position on a continuum between theism and atheism. It is not. Agnosticism is a an epistemological statement, not a statement of belief. One can be an agnostic atheist or agnostic theist. One can be a gnostic atheist or a gnostic theist.

    1. Try checking multiple dictionaries, you'll find that the definition is not so cut and dried. In fact, linguistically, an atheist is one who does not believe in gods. Do the Greek. And no, if you bother to ask Dawkins, he considers himself an atheist. Don't make up nonsense.

    2. You don't understand the word atheist. One does not have to be 100% certain there is no god to be an atheist. I doubt you know much about the thoughts of Dawkins. If you were familiar with his actual views then you would know about the 7-point scale system he described in his book The God Delusion <a href="http://(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2012/10/where-are-you-on-the-dawkins-scale/)” target=”_blank”>(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2012/10/where-are-you-on-the-dawkins-scale/). A 7 on the scale is an atheist who claims to be 100% certain there is no God. There are very, very few such atheists. You are right when you say that Dawkin's is not 100% certain of his position. The other six points on the scale are 6-De Facto Atheist, 5-Weak atheist, 4-Pure Agnostic (I disagree with this label), 3-Weak Theist, 2-De Facto theist, and 1-Strong theist. Dawkins has self-described his position as 6.9. So obviously Dawkins himself disagrees with your claim that he is an agnostic in the manner in which you are using the word, which incidentally is incorrect. Dawkins is, to be more precise, an agnostic atheist. He says he can't know that there is or isn't a God. This is an epistemological statement. It is a statement about his state of knowledge on the subject of God's knowledge. However, Dawkins has repeatedly said he does not believe in God. This is the atheist portion of his position. Note that belief and knowledge are not the same thing. One can believe or disbelieve something without having knowledge about it.

      1. You're absolutely correct. There is really nothing that we can know with any absolute degree of certainty. Knowledge is really just belief that is objectively verified to such a degree that it is absurd not to accept it as fact. Even those things we claim to know, we cannot prove absolutely. There is no objective evidence for any god, thus anyone who cares about what's actually true in the real world will reject claims without objective or rational evidence, at least until those claims are supported in the future.

        That's what atheism is. It is the rejection of theistic claims based on a complete and utter lack of objective evidence. If theists want us to believe in their gods, they need to pony up the proof. It's entirely on them.

  3. I appreciate the simple rebuttal to the "Well, you BELIEVE, you simply believe in something else" argument. It's always been such an irritating argument to listen to.
    I will use your definition the next time I am squared up with that quasi-solopsism.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Solipsism is absurdly easy to counter but the solipsists, like the theists, have their fingers pushed so deeply in their ears, their fingertips touch. That actually explains a lot, doesn't it?

      1. Are you sure solipsism is the word you meant to use here? I am curious as to what definition you are using for this term. My understanding is that this term refers to the philosophical theory or position that the self is the only thing for which an individual can have certain knowledge. This position is sometimes expressed as "I am the only mind that exists." I fail to see how this word relays the point I think you are trying to make. Seems to me that you were more likely looking for the word sophistry.

        1. There are quite a few different variations on solipsism, including the belief that even you are not real, you are just a creation of some magical super computer and your views and experiences are a means of teaching the computer about itself. In that case, you couldn't even have certain knowledge of your own existence. However, in a realistic evaluation of the world around us, we have to act as though we really exist and the world around us is real, otherwise we have no baseline for comparison.

          Realistically, all of these arguments are sophistry because they are all false.

          1. I wouldn't think it has anything at all to do with solipsism. Agnosticism, at least in the classic sense, is about not having the tools to know if there is a god. Solipsism is the belief that nothing real exists. I have yet to meet an agnostic who believed that.

    1. Because atheism is not believing gods don't exist, atheism is not believing that they do. One is an active belief, the other is a passive one. We're not atheists because we have faith that there are no gods, we're atheists because we haven't been convinced that there are.

    2. There are two choices. Either you are a theist or an atheist. You cannot be both, you cannot be neither. Anyone who actively believes in a god, any god, is a theist. Everyone else is an atheist, even those who say they don't know or don't care. Atheism is the default position, one has to adopt a belief in a god to stop being an atheist.

  4. I decided to fact check this article. Historically, atheism has pretty much always had two meanings depending on the context. The author is correct in stating that atheism is the belief that God does not exist. It also can mean a lack of a belief in God. In other words, someone who says, “There is no God,” and someone who says, “I don’t believe in a god,” are both atheists.

    Agnosticism seems to do more with knowledge and whether or not something can or cannot be known for certain. You can be a gnostic or agnostic theist or a gnostic or agnostic atheist. Someone claiming to be agnostic and someone claiming to be an atheist are actually talking about two very different subjects.

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