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Author Topic:   The definition of atheism
New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 1 of 101 (224002)
07-15-2005 7:21 PM


I know this has been discussed here before, but I just looked it up in another dictionary and I still think that people are using this word incorrectly.

The dictionary says that the definition of atheism is the belief that there is no god.

People on this forum have said that this is incorrect. They’ve said that atheist are ‘without a belief in god’ but are not ‘with a belief in no god’. The claim is as follows:

A-: without
Theism: a belief in god.

I couldn’t argue with that because I didn’t really know where the word came from and that claim seemed pretty good.

Then, I saw the following line in the dictionary under the definition of atheism:

quote:
{< Gk athe(os) godless + -ISM}

from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, The Unabridged Edition, Published in New York by Random House, Inc. 1983 page 93

This says, to me, that the claim that atheism means ‘without a belief in god’ but not ‘with a belief in no god’ is wrong. The word is greek in origin and is actually a belief that god doesn’t exist.

Why do people who are without a belief in god but not with a belief in no god want to be called atheists, even thought that’s not what the word really means?

I’ve read on this forum that they want to “take back” the word and to stop the christians from misusing it.

Why change the meaning of the word? Why not come up with a new word? Or find the word that does mean without a belief in god?


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AdminNosy
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Posts: 4754
From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Joined: 11-11-2003


Message 2 of 101 (224003)
07-15-2005 7:43 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
RAZD
Member (Idle past 638 days)
Posts: 20714
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004


Message 3 of 101 (224007)
07-15-2005 7:58 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by New Cat's Eye
07-15-2005 7:21 PM


the problem with the revisionist ‘without a belief in god’ is that it does not distinguish between atheist (belief there is no god), agnostic (don't know), apatheist (don't care) and unformulated theist (may the force be with you), while the current definition does.


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand

RebelAAmerican.Zen[Deist
{{{Buddha walks off laughing with joy}}}


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Chiroptera
Inactive Member


Message 4 of 101 (224008)
07-15-2005 8:01 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by New Cat's Eye
07-15-2005 7:21 PM


This atheist agrees.
The meaning of words is determined by how people actually use them. Dictionaries can be "behind" the times, so to speak, and so not be accurate.

However, I do agree with your definition. I use the word atheism to mean a belief that there is no god. That is the way I use it, and in my entire life that is the way people around me have used it.


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bobbins
Member (Idle past 2846 days)
Posts: 122
From: Manchester, England
Joined: 06-23-2005


Message 5 of 101 (224012)
07-15-2005 8:17 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Chiroptera
07-15-2005 8:01 PM


Re: This atheist agrees.
For me no belief necessary - I am convinced there are no gods.

Belief to me suggests a possibility of doubt, change or vacillation. Beliefs are faith based. Not one scintilla of doubt. That is not faith based but a rational interpretation of the available evidence. Therefore I am convinced that there are no gods.

Semantics with reference to the definition of atheism are irrelevant, there are as many 'definitions' of atheism as people who say they are atheist. Just as believers in cults each have their own interpretation of that cult and it's meaning to them. We do not have to invent a new word for each person.


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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RAZD
Member (Idle past 638 days)
Posts: 20714
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004


Message 6 of 101 (224015)
07-15-2005 8:45 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by bobbins
07-15-2005 8:17 PM


agrees with who?

so you are as convinced that your belief is true as the fundy is convinced that {his\her} belief is true (and who also do not admit the "possibility of doubt, change or vacillation" in their belief)?

Careful, you could be a Fundamental Atheist (another thread on this topic, now closed)

Enjoy.

ps welcome to the fray, and nice start (POTM).


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand

RebelAAmerican.Zen[Deist
{{{Buddha walks off laughing with joy}}}


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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NosyNed
Member
Posts: 8968
From: Canada
Joined: 04-04-2003


Message 7 of 101 (224020)
07-15-2005 11:16 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Chiroptera
07-15-2005 8:01 PM


Not enough words.
The meaning of words is determined by how people actually use them.

Exactly!

Some words are stretched a bit thin trying to cover a range of meanings. If you really want to know what someone believes, feels, "knows" about god then ask them don't expect a single word to get it right.

Each of 'theist', 'agnostic' and 'atheist' covers some range of meanings with just a bit of possible overlap on the extremes of each. All that you can tell from such labels is a 'theist' is going to be one who gives some degree of credance to the existance of some kind of god like entity, and 'atheist' is not going to give any and the agnostic will overlap on the extremes with each.


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bobbins
Member (Idle past 2846 days)
Posts: 122
From: Manchester, England
Joined: 06-23-2005


Message 8 of 101 (224026)
07-16-2005 12:23 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by RAZD
07-15-2005 8:45 PM


I couldn't possibly comment as to the 'fundy' you refer to. As for me, yes I am convinced that there are no gods. I prefer to consider myself as a 'rigourous atheist' or a 'radical atheist'.

I was born without beliefs and only accumulated and discarded them through life. Belief that if I cried my mother would come to me and give me attention or food. Belief that my mother and father were infallible (leading to believing my dad was in the England World Cup winning squad of 1966. Quite embarrasing at school when I repeated that.) Belief that Bolton Wanderers would stay in the top division (c.1978, again quite embarassing). Beliefs in Santa, tooth fairies, easter bunnies and hobbits all followed. Each belief was either reinforced or disabused with experience and/or knowledge. My parents favoured no religion (soft-atheist jewish father and agnostic mother) and left it up to me. That is, let me have my own beliefs. Over time the beliefs that I have accumulated and not discarded have hardened into convictions. I do not believe that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning (this morning now), I am convinced. No doctrine, tenet required. No dogma, no supernatural and certainly no god required. It will happen. Based on experience and on scientific evidence. Does this make me a fundamentalist SUN-RISE-IN-THE-EAST-ist?

Tomorrow a report appears in the paper that Nasa or The European Space agency has evidence that the sun is about to explode. Over the next few days the evidence is looked at (by many interested people including me) and found to be compelling. The evidence is tested and challenged, and results repeated. I will then change my conviction. That does not make my original conviction shaky or dogmatic. The original conviction was correct based on the evidence and experience. I will not stand by my original conviction as the conviction was born out of experience and knowledge, not a tenet or pre-determined belief.

The reason for the long delay in posting a reply is this, I started reading the discussion as sign-posted by RAZD. What to say about that! Logic-chopping, word-play and semantics. I have lurked on this site for 3/4 months and only just started posting and I already have doubts about bothering to post on pseudo-philosophical threads. Bickering about definitions is surely getting in the way of any practical discussion.

I have rewritten, deleted, revised and almost given up on this the more I read the aforementioned thread. Statements given as fact, refuted without evidence and the continual repeating of fallacies do not an arguement make. I am disregarding the fundamentalism claim as misdirection and, if your reference to 'fundy' is anything to go by, insulting.

For my sake and the poor hamster next to me, who is now probably mad with nicotine poisoning I will state my position and end this post.

In court the guilty verdict is given if convinced 'beyond all reasonable doubt'. You may believe them guilty (and you may be right), but that does not matter. You must be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt. That defines my conviction not belief. That does not mean an appeal is not possible if new evidence comes to light.

PS thank you for the kind comment re the POTM, came as quite a shock. (not your comment but the POTM)


Apophenia:seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.
Pareidolia:vague or random stimulus being perceived (mistakenly) as recognisable.

Ramsey Theory:patterns may exist.

Whoops!


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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PaulK
Member
Posts: 17167
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.6


Message 9 of 101 (224041)
07-16-2005 5:22 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by New Cat's Eye
07-15-2005 7:21 PM


I've seen this issue come up several times in the past. From my memory of my own investigations most dictionaries are compatible with the wider use and specialised sources tend even more strongly to that view (i.e. one book lists agnosticism as a from of atheism).

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Chiroptera
Inactive Member


Message 10 of 101 (224077)
07-16-2005 11:13 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by bobbins
07-15-2005 8:17 PM


Re: This atheist agrees.
quote:
Belief to me suggests a possibility of doubt, change or vacillation.

In every claim that I make, I am open to the possibility that I am wrong. That includes my claim that there is no god.


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mick
Member (Idle past 4219 days)
Posts: 913
Joined: 02-17-2005


Message 11 of 101 (224228)
07-17-2005 2:53 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by bobbins
07-16-2005 12:23 AM


Hi bobbins,

I agree with your fine post completely.

I am convinced that there are no unicorns or fire-breathing dragons on this planet - convinced of that entirely and without doubt. I'm also convinced that there are no fairies, leprechauns or Gods. It doesn't mean that I am a "fundamentalist" on these issues. When a unicorn or a fire-breathing dragon or a leprechaun is reported in PNAS I'll change my opinion as fast as anybody else. The "fundy" is the person who has made up their mind without any interest in the evidence, and the person who will maintain their belief irrespective of any future evidence that arises.

I am an atheist and as such I believe that there is no God. Indeed I am convinced that there is no God. But when irrefutable evidence mounts against my belief, I'll change it. I can live quite happily with that.

added in edit:

Catholic Scientists comment (below) doesn't make any sense to me

CS writes:

People on this forum have said that this is incorrect. They’ve said that atheist are ‘without a belief in god’ but are not ‘with a belief in no god’.

What's the difference between not believing in God, and believing in no God? No difference, as far as I can see. It's just the same as not holding a candle, and holding no candle. The sentences appear to be semantically identical.

Mick

This message has been edited by mick, 07-17-2005 03:00 PM


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bobbins
Member (Idle past 2846 days)
Posts: 122
From: Manchester, England
Joined: 06-23-2005


Message 12 of 101 (224296)
07-17-2005 6:51 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by mick
07-17-2005 2:53 PM


Cheers Mick

I spent a long time posting the reply because it occurred to me that philosophical discussion is not really suited to a forum such as this. Refutation of arguments, evidence and discussion are fine with regards to discussing and rebutting facts, whilst ideas, and personal ones at that, lose much in the translation. I would add that I really do not have a problem with people calling me anything, be it wishy-washy liberal or fundamentalist atheist, but please, please admit to me the common-sense to appreciate that the evidence available is sovereign.

ps the comment by Catholic Scientist does have subtle differences between the two definitions (for me). I would say they refer to the soft and hard atheist positions. Again as I said before, belief could indicate a vacillation (ie in the present circumstances I could change my mind), whereas the without belief would refer to a conviction (ie in the current circumstances I will not change my mind). It is all semantics at the end of the day, and gets in the way of an actual discussion.

pps the 'Bobbins Dictionary' is out next week


Apophenia:seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.
Pareidolia:vague or random stimulus being perceived (mistakenly) as recognisable.

Ramsey Theory:patterns may exist.

Whoops!


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New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 101 (224328)
07-17-2005 11:12 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by bobbins
07-15-2005 8:17 PM


Re: This atheist agrees.
For me no belief necessary - I am convinced there are no gods.

What convinced you? Is it just lack of evidence?

Lack of evidence is not proof of non-existnace. Actually, I don't think its possible to prove that something doesn't exist, outside of some wacky math problem. So, knowing that god doesn't exist without evidence of his non-existance is a belief, much like any other religious belief.

Also, seeing a lack of evidence for the existance of god and then claiming that he does not exist is an Argument from Incredulity. God connot be scientifically/objectively observed, perhaps science cannot detect everything that exists. It seems that the atheist puts too much faith in science and their own senses to be able to detect everything that exists, and makes the huge assumption that if they cannot detect it then it does not exist.

Semantics with reference to the definition of atheism are irrelevant, there are as many 'definitions' of atheism as people who say they are atheist. Just as believers in cults each have their own interpretation of that cult and it's meaning to them. We do not have to invent a new word for each person.

But the cults have specific beliefs and rules, or perhaps a creed that states its beliefs. So when I say that I'm Catholic, you should have a pretty good idea of my beliefs. But, if after learning about me, you found out that I didn’t think Jesus was the son of god(which I do, btw), wouldn’t you question me saying I was Catholic?

This message has been edited by Catholic Scientist, 07-17-2005 10:20 PM


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New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 14 of 101 (224332)
07-17-2005 11:28 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by mick
07-17-2005 2:53 PM


Catholic Scientists comment (below) doesn't make any sense to me

CS writes:

People on this forum have said that this is incorrect. They’ve said that atheist are ‘without a belief in god’ but are not ‘with a belief in no god’.

What's the difference between not believing in God, and believing in no God? No difference, as far as I can see. It's just the same as not holding a candle, and holding no candle. The sentences appear to be semantically identical.

I'll have to look around and see if I can find some posts/posters who have made the claim. I though they would reply but it seems they aren't defending their position. All I've gotten is athiest who fit the definition, I was hoping to get some answers to the questions I asked from the atheists who don't fit the definition.

Basically, IIRC, what they say is that 'a belief in no god' is making a claim to know that god doesn't exist. They say that this can't be known, which I agree with. Their 'belief' is that because they have no seen any evidence to suggest that god exists, then they will remain without a belief in his existance, but, they do not make the claim that he does not exist.


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crashfrog
Member (Idle past 699 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 15 of 101 (224334)
07-17-2005 11:33 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by New Cat's Eye
07-17-2005 11:12 PM


Actually, I don't think its possible to prove that something doesn't exist, outside of some wacky math problem.

When it's logically impossible for something to exist and not leave a certain evidence, and we don't find that evidence in the place where it's logically impossible for it to exist and not be, we know that something doesn't exist.

For instance we can know the Christian god doesn't exist because it would be impossible for that God to exist and not leave certain evidence; since we know the evidence wasn't left we know that God doesn't exist. A benevolent and omnipotent god logically can't be present in the universe that we observe.

Can I know that all possible gods don't exist? No, I can't, which is why I'm an agnostic atheist. But the existence of any gods described as "benevolent" and "omnipotent" can't logically be consistent with the world as we observe it, at least not if we're going to grant that words have any meaning at all.

The only gods that can exist are useless ones, so I don't waste my time, especially since there's nothing I could know about them. For some gods, we can know that they don't exist. For others no knowledge about their status or nature is possible. Neither one of those are a legitimate basis to even propose that we can know that gods exist. Hence, atheism - no belief in any gods.

So when I say that I'm Catholic, you should have a pretty good idea of my beliefs.

Nonsense. If John Kerry, Andrew Sullivan and the new Pope can all be Catholics, then there's no predictive value to knowing that someone is a Catholic.

But, if after learning about me, you found out that I didn’t think Jesus was the son of god(which I do, btw), wouldn’t you question me saying I was Catholic?

Who am I to judge your religious experience? If you say you're a Catholic, who am I to argue? The Pope might disagree but who is he to define who is Catholic and who is not?


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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