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Thread: The Problem with the Term Atheism

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    The Problem with the Term Atheism

    (Notice: this discussion is not about the merits of any kind of atheism or theism, but simply intended to settle disputes over definitions.)

    -

    The problem with the term atheism is that it’s so much of a mixed bag as to be virtually useless. It can be said that theists use the term indiscriminately, but on the other hand: atheists of all stripes often take advantage of the situation. It is, simply put, a smokescreen used by all sides.

    There are the implicit atheists, who are simply people who haven’t put much thought yet on the matter of the divine. It is highly questionable whether there is any merit in labelling these people atheists, for when these people themselves are drawn into the discussion on (the existence of) any god, any implicitness instantly vanishes, as they will have no choice but to take position.

    Then there are the explicit atheists, who are subdivided into: 1) strong atheists, a.k.a. positive atheists, who argue that no god exists, and 2) weak atheists, a.k.a. negative atheists, who do not argue that no god exists, but simply reject belief. The latter, it seems prudent, should rather be grouped under agnostics or should simply be labelled irreligious. Only the former, the explicit strong/positive atheists, are then actual atheists.

    The use of the term atheism with regard to specific conceptions of God (e.g. “I’m a strong atheist regarding the Christian God.”) only serves to increase confusion, since strong atheism is usually already defined as the position that no god exists. It is akin to someone saying he is a vegetarian regarding pork, but open to eating beef. It defeats the purpose of having such a qualification in the first place. People who reject a specific conception of God but are open to other conceptions are simply not atheists.

    Do (explicit strong/positive) atheists share a single worldview? That might be hard to say. They remain a mixed bag, as there are atheists who nevertheless believe in the supernatural, like of certain schools of Hinduism, and those who do not, who are committed naturalists or even materialists. Conversely, theists are a mixed bag, as there are monotheists and polytheists of different kinds. Of course, the term theism is often used specifically to refer to a certain kind of monotheism, but that is a matter of colloquial use. Strictly speaking, a theist is someone who believes in at least one god.

    However, when we refer to atheists as a single socio-political force, we mean people with an atheist agenda; people who want to secularise society, as they feel religion should be placed under the authority of the state entirely, insisting there is not or should not be such a thing as divine rule. A subsection of these are the antitheists, who actively if not vehemently pursue the atheist agenda. Any agnostics, or theists for that matter, who sympathise with the atheist agenda, or even take part in its pursuit, simply show themselves to be practical atheists. For one who truly leaves open the possibility of the existence of any god will not organise society as if man is wholly autonomous. Conversely, any agnostics, or atheists for that matter, who sympathise with any theist agenda are practical theists of some sort.

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    Senior Member Nebelwerfer's Avatar
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    An athiest is somebody who has considered the notion of a god and rejected it. I don't think it ever implies some political agenda.

    Religion on the other hand is guilty as charged.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nebelwerfer View Post
    An athiest is somebody who has considered the notion of a god and rejected it. I don't think it ever implies some political agenda.

    Religion on the other hand is guilty as charged.
    I disagree..
    Atheism has its dogma and "priests" like for instance Dawkins. To be a non believer is a neutralterm, but being atheist or humanist has just as many properties as being a christian ot muslim.. Atheism in todays world is if possible even more politically loaded than being a radical christian.

    On the other hand, a secular society is just a description of a society without any ethics or morals at all. Its like when liberal norwegians say that we have to separate between the political man and artist Knut Hamsun.. Utterly absurd!

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    Senior Member Horagalles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anlef View Post
    ...Then there are the explicit atheists, who are subdivided into: 1) strong atheists, a.k.a. positive atheists, who argue that no god exists, and 2) weak atheists, a.k.a. negative atheists, who do not argue that no god exists, but simply reject belief. The latter, it seems prudent, should rather be grouped under agnostics or should simply be labelled irreligious. Only the former, the explicit strong/positive atheists, are then actual atheists....
    It's actually quite easy:
    1. Atheist: Someone who positively professes the believe that no god(s) exists.
    2. Agnostic: Someone that isn't convinced of the existence of god or who believes that one can not know whether god exists or not.

    Atheism is always a religious position, due to its dogmatic and sometimes even evangelical nature. Agnosticism on the other hand can be religious, but often is just disinterest in the subject.
    "And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring;..." Plato Politeia

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    Senior Member Nebelwerfer's Avatar
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    Despite popular culture, I think I'll stick to my dictionary definition of athiest as simply "somebody who doesn't believe in a god."

    There may be athiests who like to rail against religions, but thats just their choice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lew Skannon View Post
    I disagree..
    Atheism has its dogma and "priests" like for instance Dawkins. To be a non believer is a neutralterm, but being atheist or humanist has just as many properties as being a christian ot muslim.. Atheism in todays world is if possible even more politically loaded than being a radical christian.

    On the other hand, a secular society is just a description of a society without any ethics or morals at all. Its like when liberal norwegians say that we have to separate between the political man and artist Knut Hamsun.. Utterly absurd!
    You've bought into the definition of Atheism as given by Christian apologists. Of course, they will say that Atheism is "dogmatic" and "religious", to delegitimise it. However, to call Atheism a religion or dogma is just as absurd as to call "bald" a hair colour.

    It's simply intellectually dishonest to redefine Atheism based on what the Theists believe it means, because they will have ulterior motives for distorting the meaning of the word. In addition, it's a slippery slope (especially for Theists) to redefine words based on what one or more misguided "devotees" believe. If Christians can define Atheism by pointing at a person who "rejects God" because he's angry, and has no logical reasons for being an Atheist, then we non-believers can redefine Christianity by pointing to the Crusades, the Inquisition, Harold Camping, the Flat Earthers, the Westboro Baptist Church or any other fringe groups and define "Christisanity" purely based on these groups.

    Furthermore, the absurdity of calling disbelief religious and dogmatic, is a slippery slope argument in that we as non-believers can point at all the gods and religions that a Christian doesn't believe in, and call that disbelief a religion.

    Atheism - How many gods do YOU not believe in?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Horagalles View Post
    It's actually quite easy:
    1. Atheist: Someone who positively professes the believe that no god(s) exists.
    2. Agnostic: Someone that isn't convinced of the existence of god or who believes that one can not know whether god exists or not.

    Atheism is always a religious position, due to its dogmatic and sometimes even evangelical nature. Agnosticism on the other hand can be religious, but often is just disinterest in the subject.

    How on Earth can Atheism be a religious position? What tenants are there in Atheism? What scriptures are there? What Atheist churches are there? Again, a lack of a belief in something cannot be a belief in and of itself, and to redefine a word like Atheism to mean something else, doesn't change that fact.

    There are of course those who call themselves Atheists but don't understand the meaning of the word. However, to base your interpretation of a word on those who fail to understand what it means to be an Atheist, is actually damaging those who hold such a position, because in that case anyone can define any word they like by anyone who chooses to interpret that word as they wish. If I want the word "table" to mean "chair", and I sit on a table as if it were a chair, it wouldn't turn tables into chairs. In the same sense, if people want "Atheism" to mean whatever they want, that's not how it works.

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    Senior Member Schopenhauer's Avatar
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    All you are talking about here are just different points of view. Some think life was created deliberately and with purpose by divine beings, while others think life is just a simple chemical process devoid of any meaning.

    The thing with both of these points of view is that they are both human inventions.
    Omnia risus et omnis pulvis et omnia nihil - HPL

    "Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about." - Willy Wonka

    “niemand bleibt hier” - Maria Orsic

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schopenhauer View Post
    All you are talking about here are just different points of view. Some think life was created deliberately and with purpose by divine beings, while others think life is just a simple chemical process devoid of any meaning.

    The thing with both of these points of view is that they are both human inventions.
    Well, there's a tendency to mix belief and lack of belief, with evidence. These are not one and the same.

    For example, in order to be an intellectually honest Atheist, you should rely on evidence in order to counter beliefs like Creationism in an accurate and sound way. The simple lack of belief in a god is not evidence in and of itself, just as the simple belief in a god is not evidence of something like Creationism.

    When we speak about evidence, I think few intellectually honest Atheists would claim to know the meaning of life or how exactly life was formed, since the former (meaning) is a philosophical argument and cannot be proven either way by science, and the latter (origins) has no scientific explanation as of yet.

    However, an Atheist can point to evidence in favour of evolution, in order to debunk claims made by Creationists. Wherever there is actual evidence, we don't need belief.

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    Senior Member Schopenhauer's Avatar
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    Theism, like atheism, are just philosophical stances. No more or less valid than any other.

    Ultimately what atheism and theism come down to is just one person wanting to impose his/her worldview on another.
    Omnia risus et omnis pulvis et omnia nihil - HPL

    "Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about." - Willy Wonka

    “niemand bleibt hier” - Maria Orsic

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