Attempts to dilute the definition of atheism

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Atheism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other philosophy reference works, is the denial of the existence of God.[1] Paul Edwards, who was a prominent atheist and editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defined an atheist as "a person who maintains that there is no God." [2] See also: Definition of atheism. This traditional definition of atheism is also called strong atheism or positive atheism.

In the late 19th century and more broadly in the latter portion of the 20th century, the proposition that the definition of atheism also include a mere lack of belief in God or gods began.[3] It is now common for atheists/agnostics and theists to debate the meaning of the word atheism.[4] This newer definition of atheism is called weak atheism.

In terms of contemporary definitions of atheism, the Webster-Merriam Dictionary defines atheism in two ways: "1) a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods 2) a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods."[5] Oxford English Dictionies defines atheism as "Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods."[6]

Charles Bradlaugh, in 1876, proposed that atheism does not assert "there is no God," and by doing so he diluted the traditional definition of atheism.[7][8][9] Since 1979, many atheists have followed Bradlaugh's thinking further and stated that atheism is merely a lack of belief in any god.[9][10] The motive for such a shift in meaning appears to be to an attempt to shift the burden of proof regarding the existence of God to the theism side.[9]

In the article, Is Atheism Presumptuous?, atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder, a founder of Internet Infidels, states that "I agree (with Copan) that anyone who claims, "God does not exist," must shoulder a burden of proof just as much as anyone who claims, "God exists."[9] In short, the attempt to redefine atheism is merely an attempt to make no assertions so no facts need be offered.[9] The attempt to redefine atheism, however, is not in accordance with the standard definitions of atheism that encyclopedias of philosophy employ which is that atheism is a denial of the existence of God or gods.[7][8][9] In addition, the atheist community has often used deception to promote their ideology.

Unlike Christianity, which is supported by a large body of sound evidence (see: Christian apologetics), atheism has no proof and evidence supporting its ideology. In addition, atheists/skeptics do have a tradition of making assumptions that later have proved errant.[11] Also, prominent atheists, such as Charles Darwin (see: religious views of Charles Darwin ), have experienced doubts concerning the validity of atheism.

This redefinition blurs the distinction between saying, "There is no God", and "I don't know whether God exists or not." It lets people say, "I don't believe in God," without clarifying whether they are denying God's existence (which is atheism) or are merely uncertain about it (which is agnosticism).

Purpose of attempting to dilute the definition of atheism

The purpose of all these exercises in the redefinition of atheism is to try to slant the rhetorical playing field in favor of the atheists and against believers because:

1) Atheism lacks proof and evidence that is true.[12]

Don R. Day in his article entitled Atheism - Etymology states:

In the last twenty years or so atheists and theists have taken to debating on college campuses, and in town halls, all across this country. By using the above definition, atheists have attempted to shift the burden of proof. In the article, Is Atheism Presumptuous?, atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder admits that "I agree [with Copan] that anyone who claims, "God does not exist," must shoulder a burden of proof just as much as anyone who claims, "God exists." However, no assertions, no facts need be offered. Again, George Smith:
If one presents a positive belief (i.e. an assertion which one claims to be true), one has the obligation to present evidence in its favor. The burden of proof lies with the person who asserts the truth of a proposition. If the evidence is not forthcoming, if there are not sufficient grounds for accepting the proposition, it should not be believed.[13]
Weak atheism is an individual merely lacking a belief in God/gods. Using this broad definition of definition of atheism, there are atheists who argue that babies are atheists.[14] See also: Atheism and children

2) By redefining atheism to include agnosticism, atheists artificially boost their numbers - there are many non-religious folks who will admit they aren't sure whether God exists, but far fewer who have the presumptousness to claim to know for a fact that He does not - and also make their case easier to make (an agnostic, to justify their agnosticism, need only overcome the positive evidence in favor of God's existence; an atheist, in addition to that, must also find positive evidence against God's existence)

3) By redefining atheism so that even babies are claimed to be atheists (see: Weak atheism), atheists try to falsely paint atheism as some sort of natural state, despite the fact that religion is a universal across human cultures, up until modern times; there is no culture which totally lacks religious beliefs, and religious belief goes back thousands of years

4) By ignoring the definition of traditional God (which refers to an omnipotent being, not a more limited being such as that found in Greek mythology), they try to claim that Christians are atheists, with respect to all the gods of mythology. However, this specious argument ignores the fact that these other supposed beings are not Gods, only gods. There can only be one God, when the definition of God includes omnipotence.

William Lane Craig on attempts to define the word atheism

William Lane Craig declared:

There’s a history behind this. Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists....

But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they were defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist." So understood the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists)...

Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view. It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all. On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists! In fact, our cat Muff counts as an atheist on this definition, since she has (to my knowledge) no belief in God.

One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.

So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position? Here I agree with you that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists. If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view.[15]

Atheism and its lack of a foundation

In his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose, the atheist Francois Tremblay compared unifying atheists to herding cats.[16]

The atheist Francois Tremblay wrote in his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose about the lack of a foundation for atheism:

Atheism, as commonly defined by atheists, expresses a lack of belief, or disbelief, in deities. It is not a positive belief in anything, but a negative concept. That is why atheists, inasmuch as they are atheists, are nothing like a coherent or concerted group. Organizations like American Atheists serve a role of broadcasting information more than anything else, because there cannot be concerted action when nobody agrees on what to do (except of course on direct concerns like the rights of atheists or separation of church and state). Most atheists disagree strongly on whenever atheism should be propagated, or promoted, and on the matter of doing so.

Another problem of atheism qua atheism is that it does not contain its own basis. What I mean by this is that atheism is a punctual, ontological belief, which is itself the implicit or explicit result of metaphysical and epistemological deductions. Any reply to an attack on this basis cannot come directly from atheism. Concentrating oneself only on being an atheist is like trying to build a house from the second floor up. It may look less costly on paper, and for people who only build houses in their imagination this may be a good way of seeing it, but it's not good enough for a serious endeavour. And most importantly, it's too fragile. I see too many religionists attacking atheism from the bottom and atheists being unable to adequately reply to the arguments. If the atheist cannot answer to his most fundamental beliefs on the nature of reality and cognition, then his atheism is worthless in terms of validation. It is nothing more than a big paper tiger, made from the finest cardboard.

One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let's be honest here, "there is no god!" is not a very motivating call for most people.[16]

Atheism, dogmatism and strong atheism

See also: Atheism, dogmatism and strong atheism and Atheism and open-mindedness and Atheism and dogmatism and Atheism and groupthink

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins was one of the founders of New Atheism.

Because the traditional definition of atheism existed for centuries, the existence of outspoken and dogmatic atheists (see: New Atheism and Atheist activist) and because atheism lacks proof and evidence that it is true, atheism and/or atheists are often accused of being dogmatic.

For example, in his BBC documentary The Trouble with Atheism the award-winning journalist Rod Liddle indicates:

Some atheists have become rather dogmatic. Terribly certain in their conviction that there is no God and anyone who thinks there is is a deluded and dangerous fool. ,,,atheists are becoming as intransigent about their own views as the people they so despise.

Atheism is becoming a religion of its own. It already has its gurus and its revered sacred texts... It has its magnificent temples within which lie mysteries and unknowable truths.[17]

The journalist Marjorie Steele states:

I’m not so much saying atheists as individuals are dogmatic, as I am that atheism is, as an ideology. Atheism takes a firmly negative stance on anything supernatural, asserting it does not exist, which is very different from asserting that it’s unknown. That premise alone makes atheism as dogmatic as religion.[18]

In addition, research indicates that atheists are more dogmatic/closed-minded (see: Atheism and open-mindedness and Atheism and dogmatism).

Atheism as a religion

See also: Atheism is a religion

The British atheist Sanderson Jones is a founder of the Sunday Assembly "atheist church" movement.[19]

Atheism is a religion and this has implications in terms of the disciplines of religion, philosophy, Christian apologetics and law.[20] In addition, although many atheists deny that atheism is a worldview, atheists commonly share a number of beliefs such as naturalism, belief in evolution and abiogenesis.[21]

If the view that there is no God (or are no gods) is a religion, it is argued its expression is constitutionally protected in the United States.[22] The government cannot force atheists to recant and adopt the opposite belief.

In his BBC documentary The Trouble with Atheism the award-winning journalist Rod Liddle indicates:

Some atheists have become rather dogmatic. Terribly certain in their conviction that there is no God and anyone who thinks there is is a deluded and dangerous fool. ,,,atheists are becoming as intransigent about their own views as the people they so despise.

Atheism is becoming a religion of its own. It already has its gurus and its revered sacred texts... It has its magnificent temples within which lie mysteries and unknowable truths.[23]

If atheism is not a religion, then the expression of atheistic ideas is still covered by the First Amendment, but only by the free speech and free press clauses.

The implications go deeper, affecting public education. If atheism is a religion, then the atheism adhering to the methodological naturalism of physical science cannot be given excessive government support. That would violate the establishment of religion clause. So, evolution education would have to allow students freedom to dissent from the "orthodox" pseudoscientific view that human beings evolved from earlier forms of life without any intervention from God. It should be noted that biology courses only require knowledge of what the theory of evolution, its mechanisms, and the evidence supporting it, rather than belief that evolution occurred.[24]

In 2013, a trend of atheist churches began and atheist church services were reported on in the New York Times, The Blaze and other major news outlets.[25]

See also

External links

Notes

  1. Multiple references:
  2. Putting the Atheist on the Defensive by Kenneth R. Samples, Christian Research Institute Journal, Fall 1991, and Winter 1992, page 7.
  3. Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology".
  4. Atheism, Webster-Merriam dictionary
  5. Atheism, Oxford online dictionary
  6. 7.0 7.1 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/
  7. 8.0 8.1 Is Atheism More Rational by Creation Ministries International
  8. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 http://www.thedivineconspiracy.org/athart3.htm
  9. Positive Atheism's Big List of Charles Bradlaugh Quotations
  10. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth11.html
  11. Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology". Retrieved July 15, 2014
  12. Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology". Retrieved July 15, 2014
  13. Are babies born atheists? by Matt Slick
  14. Definition of atheism by William Lane Craig
  15. 16.0 16.1 Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  16. BBC Documentary The Trouble With Atheism BBC Horizon Documentary
  17. Journalist Marjorie Steele on atheism
  18. Atheist Church Split: Sunday Assembly And Godless Revival's 'Denominational Chasm', Huffington Post, 2014
  19. Is Atheism a religion? by Daniel Smartt, Published: 4 May 2010(GMT+10)
  20. The Supreme Court has said a religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being. In the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the court described "secular humanism" as a religion. Court rules atheism is a religion
  21. BBC Documentary The Trouble With Atheism BBC Horizon Documentary
  22. See Kenneth Miller's testimony in Selden v. Cobb County', available at [2], p. 178