What does "Atheism" mean?

What does "Atheism" mean?

There are 42 comments on the Examiner.com story from Jul 26, 2014, titled What does "Atheism" mean?. In it, Examiner.com reports that:

One of the great oddities with regards to issues pertaining to Atheism is the ongoing debates about the definition of the term "Atheism" .

Join the discussion below, or Read more at Examiner.com.

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“It's just a box of rain...”

Since: May 07

Knoxville, TN

#1 Jul 26, 2014
There's nothing scholarly about the way definitions form, nor are they static. They form and change from their use by a language's speakers and writers within the many contexts in which words are used.

The scholarship involves discovering those definitions. That is the work of lexicographers. They do this by sampling a word's use in literature, the press, and even in spoken samples collected by eavesdropping on conversations in public places. Their job is to discover the meaning of the word in each of the contexts it is used.

The meanings of words change with time, usually gradually, but sometimes with startling rapidity. As such, every dictionary is, to some extent, already out of date by the time it is published.

There is some legitimacy to the notion that, ultimately, the most accurate definitions of "atheist" and "atheism" must come from atheists themselves rather than from their adversaries in the same way that Catholicism and Judaism ares better defined by their own adherents than by, say, Ku Klux Klan members. At the same time, there are definitions used in other contexts that also apply--atheists can't expect exclusivity in the lexicographical process.

Buck Crick

Since: May 10

Location hidden

#2 Jul 27, 2014
NightSerf wrote:
There's nothing scholarly about the way definitions form, nor are they static. They form and change from their use by a language's speakers and writers within the many contexts in which words are used.
The scholarship involves discovering those definitions. That is the work of lexicographers. They do this by sampling a word's use in literature, the press, and even in spoken samples collected by eavesdropping on conversations in public places. Their job is to discover the meaning of the word in each of the contexts it is used.
The meanings of words change with time, usually gradually, but sometimes with startling rapidity. As such, every dictionary is, to some extent, already out of date by the time it is published.
There is some legitimacy to the notion that, ultimately, the most accurate definitions of "atheist" and "atheism" must come from atheists themselves rather than from their adversaries in the same way that Catholicism and Judaism ares better defined by their own adherents than by, say, Ku Klux Klan members. At the same time, there are definitions used in other contexts that also apply--atheists can't expect exclusivity in the lexicographical process.
You are describing a more or less natural process. That is NOT the process by which the term "atheism" has undergone manipulation.

Atheists have attempted to redefine the term for their own rhetorical advantage. "Atheism" means, and has always meant, "belief that no god exists". The attempt to redifine it as a "lack of belief" is deviousness, and is dishonest.

The motivation is to install their own philosophy as a default position - conferring upon it by fiat a neutrality and superior rationally to any "belief". It attempts to remove any burden of argument, This allows the atheists on this page to make the ridiculous, and dishonest claim that "everyone is born an atheist". You can see the psychological gamesmanship there.

The senior editor of Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy addressed this very phenomenon:

"In our understanding, the argument for this broader notion was
introduced into the philosophical literature by Antony Flew in 'The
Presumption of Atheism'(1972). In that work, he noted that he was
using an etymological argument to try to convince people 'not' to
follow the 'standard meaning' of the term. His goal was to reframe
the debate about the existence of God and to re-brand 'atheism' as a
default position.

Not everyone has been convinced to use the term in Flew's way simply
on the force of his argument. For some, who consider themselves
atheists in the traditional sense, Flew's efforts seemed to be an
attempt to water down a perfectly good concept. For others, who
consider themselves agnostics in the traditional sense, Flew's efforts
seemed to be an attempt to re-label them 'atheists'-- a term they
rejected."

All the best,
Uri Nodelman, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Senior Editor.

Keywords:

"not to follow the standard meaning"

"rebrand atheism as the default position"

"water down"

"re-label"

“It's just a box of rain...”

Since: May 07

Knoxville, TN

#3 Jul 27, 2014
There is some legitimacy to Buck's contentions, but it is still true--and always has been--that the meanings of words change with time and use. In order to define atheism in this time, one of the tasks lexicographers face is finding out what self-identified atheists believe. A second task is identifying and overcoming their own bias. This Noah Webster failed--nay, refused--to do, and many other lexicographers have followed the same path.

The fact is that "atheist," like most words, has multiple meanings, and that which one applies depends on context. To some, it does infer wickedness, so that definition, while secondary, still applies. So does "belief that there is not god." But "lack of belief in deities" also applies. There is not a single meaning that applies universally.

Let's look at some other words. "Awful" is a prime example of a word that has undergone radical change over the las couple of centuries. Once synonymous with "wonderful" or "awe inspiring," it has come to mean terrible or horrific. More can be found on web pages dedicated to the subject:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/05/31/7358... #

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/words-li...

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/10/ch...

Buck cites a work from 1972 as though it were so authoritative as to override any other source and as though philosophical thought (quite fluid in itself) should trump the work of the world's lexicographers. This is an example of the rigidity and stubborn refusal to consider new evidence that I mentioned in a recent post. It would never occur to him to think, "Wait a minute--maybe I need to take a new look at this." To his credit, he writes well and organizes his arguments with admirable precision. But his thinking is clouded by ego and an overabundance of certainty.

“It's just a box of rain...”

Since: May 07

Knoxville, TN

#4 Jul 27, 2014
For the sake of balance, let's look at a couple of online philosophical encyclopedias.

The term “atheist” describes a person who does not believe that God or a divine being exists. Worldwide there may be as many as a billion atheists, although social stigma, political pressure, and intolerance make accurate polling difficult.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/

The main purpose of this article is to explore the differences between atheism and agnosticism, and the relations between them. The task is made more difficult because each of these words are what Wittgenstein called ‘family resemblance’ words. That is, we cannot expect to find a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for their use. Their use is appropriate if a fair number of the conditions are satisfied. Moreover even particular members of the families are often imprecise, and sometimes almost completely obscure. Sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalised philosophical scepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.

At its simplest, pantheism can be ontologically indistinguishable from atheism. Such a pantheism would be belief in nothing beyond the physical universe, but associated with emotions of wonder and awe similar to those that we find in religious belief.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agn...

Buck Crick

Since: May 10

Location hidden

#5 Jul 27, 2014
NightSerf wrote:
There is some legitimacy to Buck's contentions, but it is still true--and always has been--that the meanings of words change with time and use. In order to define atheism in this time, one of the tasks lexicographers face is finding out what self-identified atheists believe. A second task is identifying and overcoming their own bias. This Noah Webster failed--nay, refused--to do, and many other lexicographers have followed the same path.
The fact is that "atheist," like most words, has multiple meanings, and that which one applies depends on context. To some, it does infer wickedness, so that definition, while secondary, still applies. So does "belief that there is not god." But "lack of belief in deities" also applies. There is not a single meaning that applies universally.
Let's look at some other words. "Awful" is a prime example of a word that has undergone radical change over the las couple of centuries. Once synonymous with "wonderful" or "awe inspiring," it has come to mean terrible or horrific. More can be found on web pages dedicated to the subject:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/05/31/7358... #
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/words-li...
http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/10/ch...
Buck cites a work from 1972 as though it were so authoritative as to override any other source and as though philosophical thought (quite fluid in itself) should trump the work of the world's lexicographers. This is an example of the rigidity and stubborn refusal to consider new evidence that I mentioned in a recent post. It would never occur to him to think, "Wait a minute--maybe I need to take a new look at this." To his credit, he writes well and organizes his arguments with admirable precision. But his thinking is clouded by ego and an overabundance of certainty.
You are incorrect.

I cited no work from 1972; it was cited by the editor whose letter I cited. The current or non-current quality of the work cited is improperly weighted by your suggestion, as it was a tracing of a historical origin of the sentiment for altering the term "atheism", not as an update.

I have no such rigidity for entertaining new ideas, and semantics is a category open to interpretation, I fully acknowledge. My rigidity is with semantics put to the use of advancing an ideology, and language being altered for the sake of self-serving advocacy, not scholarship.

Buck Crick

Since: May 10

Location hidden

#6 Jul 27, 2014
NightSerf wrote:
For the sake of balance, let's look at a couple of online philosophical encyclopedias.
The term “atheist” describes a person who does not believe that God or a divine being exists. Worldwide there may be as many as a billion atheists, although social stigma, political pressure, and intolerance make accurate polling difficult.
http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/
The main purpose of this article is to explore the differences between atheism and agnosticism, and the relations between them. The task is made more difficult because each of these words are what Wittgenstein called ‘family resemblance’ words. That is, we cannot expect to find a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for their use. Their use is appropriate if a fair number of the conditions are satisfied. Moreover even particular members of the families are often imprecise, and sometimes almost completely obscure. Sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalised philosophical scepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.
‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.
At its simplest, pantheism can be ontologically indistinguishable from atheism. Such a pantheism would be belief in nothing beyond the physical universe, but associated with emotions of wonder and awe similar to those that we find in religious belief.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agn...
It is incumbent upon the person or persons who applies a label to himself to know what he is saying about himself. If the label contains connotations which do not apply to him, it is illegitimate to identify with the group so labeled for whatever benefit he wishes to derive from inclusion in the group.

In the present case, if one identifies with the substantial population labeling themselves "atheist", it is illegitimate to then also claim the benefit derived from a mere "rational skepticism". It is to have his cake and eat it, too.

Further, it is to improperly disparage the substantial population who hold "belief" in a higher power as less rational than the atheist. Such a rhetorical tool diminishes the substance of the debate on whether it is rational to believe in a higher power, and reduces it to a case settled by semantic pronouncement, as opposed to logical argument.
religionisillnes s

London, UK

#7 Jul 27, 2014
Buck Crick wrote:
<quoted text>
It is incumbent upon the person or persons who applies a label to himself to know what he is saying about himself. If the label contains connotations which do not apply to him, it is illegitimate to identify with the group so labeled for whatever benefit he wishes to derive from inclusion in the group.
In the present case, if one identifies with the substantial population labeling themselves "atheist", it is illegitimate to then also claim the benefit derived from a mere "rational skepticism". It is to have his cake and eat it, too.
Further, it is to improperly disparage the substantial population who hold "belief" in a higher power as less rational than the atheist. Such a rhetorical tool diminishes the substance of the debate on whether it is rational to believe in a higher power, and reduces it to a case settled by semantic pronouncement, as opposed to logical argument.
Shaddap your creationist POS. Atheism is a simple disbelief in god or gods.

You're simply a proofless halfwit who converted to creationism in prison. Go back home to your cult and tell them your failed to convert any atheists today.

“In God we trust”

Since: Dec 12

Cape Town, South Africa

#8 Jul 27, 2014
religionisillness wrote:
<quoted text>
Shaddap your creationist POS. Atheism is a simple disbelief in god or gods.
You're simply a proofless halfwit who converted to creationism in prison. Go back home to your cult and tell them your failed to convert any atheists today.
TEMPER TANTRUM. TEMPER TANTRUM. Run Buck, Run!!!! LOL
religionisillnes s

London, UK

#9 Jul 27, 2014
Carchar king wrote:
<quoted text>
TEMPER TANTRUM. TEMPER TANTRUM. Run Buck, Run!!!! LOL
Go away you cowards with no proof of god. You are an embarrassment to your failed creationist cults.

Scientists know more than you pitiful ignorant tree-scum who can only lie about atheists all day long.

You couldn't convert a fly to your ignorant beliefs.

“Citizen_Patriot_ Voter_Atheist!”

Since: May 09

Earth,TX

#10 Jul 27, 2014
The "A" is the definitive factor here it means not, as in a lack of, the total absence of a theism.
Atheism is the complete lack of a theology based "ism".

“In God we trust”

Since: Dec 12

Cape Town, South Africa

#11 Jul 28, 2014
religionisillness wrote:
<quoted text>
Go away you cowards with no proof of god. You are an embarrassment to your failed creationist cults.
Scientists know more than you pitiful ignorant tree-scum who can only lie about atheists all day long.
You couldn't convert a fly to your ignorant beliefs.
Well, it's a fly what do you expect, lol. I better get outta here quickly or who knows, you might go into rage mode.( Not good)

“In God we trust”

Since: Dec 12

Cape Town, South Africa

#12 Jul 28, 2014
NightSerf wrote:
There's nothing scholarly about the way definitions form, nor are they static. They form and change from their use by a language's speakers and writers within the many contexts in which words are used.
The scholarship involves discovering those definitions. That is the work of lexicographers. They do this by sampling a word's use in literature, the press, and even in spoken samples collected by eavesdropping on conversations in public places. Their job is to discover the meaning of the word in each of the contexts it is used.
The meanings of words change with time, usually gradually, but sometimes with startling rapidity. As such, every dictionary is, to some extent, already out of date by the time it is published.
There is some legitimacy to the notion that, ultimately, the most accurate definitions of "atheist" and "atheism" must come from atheists themselves rather than from their adversaries in the same way that Catholicism and Judaism ares better defined by their own adherents than by, say, Ku Klux Klan members. At the same time, there are definitions used in other contexts that also apply--atheists can't expect exclusivity in the lexicographical process.
Atheism means you don't believe in any Gods. Simple. We don't need rocket science to figure that out.

Buck Crick

Since: May 10

Location hidden

#13 Jul 28, 2014
Reason Personified wrote:
The "A" is the definitive factor here it means not, as in a lack of, the total absence of a theism.
Atheism is the complete lack of a theology based "ism".
Not correct. The "A" does not refer to theology or "ism".

It refers to god.

The greek "atheos", meaning no god, with the suffix "ism"...

To believe there is no god.

“It's just a box of rain...”

Since: May 07

Knoxville, TN

#14 Jul 28, 2014
While the ancient roots of words are of interest, that's not how lexicographers decide what they mean and how to list them in dictionaries. They do so, as I described above, by sampling current usage, both spoken and written. As such, those meanings can and often do change over time. Due to the nature of that process, dictionaries are often years or even decades behind those changes. To find out what "atheist" and "atheism" mean in 2014, we will have to wait for the next editions in which the contributing lexicographers have reevaluated the word. In the mean time, it is good for many people to express what the words mean to them personally as internet sampling is quite likely to be a large part of the sampling process for the foreseeable future.

“Citizen_Patriot_ Voter_Atheist!”

Since: May 09

Earth,TX

#15 Jul 28, 2014
Buck Crick wrote:
<quoted text>
Not correct. The "A" does not refer to theology or "ism".
It refers to god.
The greek "atheos", meaning no god, with the suffix "ism"...
To believe there is no god.
Wrong as usual. There is no god contained in the letter "a". And I never said it was, the letter "a" in atheism means not, nein, a lack of.

A(<no)theism
Patrick

United States

#16 Jul 28, 2014
BREAKING NEWS

"There is no god contained in the letter "a"."

Buck Crick

Since: May 10

Location hidden

#17 Jul 28, 2014
Patrick wrote:
BREAKING NEWS
"There is no god contained in the letter "a"."
"a" REFERS to god.

"nogod-ism"

Buck Crick

Since: May 10

Location hidden

#18 Jul 28, 2014
NightSerf wrote:
While the ancient roots of words are of interest, that's not how lexicographers decide what they mean and how to list them in dictionaries. They do so, as I described above, by sampling current usage, both spoken and written. As such, those meanings can and often do change over time. Due to the nature of that process, dictionaries are often years or even decades behind those changes. To find out what "atheist" and "atheism" mean in 2014, we will have to wait for the next editions in which the contributing lexicographers have reevaluated the word. In the mean time, it is good for many people to express what the words mean to them personally as internet sampling is quite likely to be a large part of the sampling process for the foreseeable future.
There is a concerted effort to dilute the term. It is traceable and provable.

The effort is undertaken as advocacy for a philosophical position.

ad·vo·ca·cy noun \&#712;ad-v&#601;-k &#601;-s&#275;\
: the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal

That is not a legitimate or natural evolution of terminology. It is an attempt to benefit a particular point of view.

“It's just a box of rain...”

Since: May 07

Knoxville, TN

#19 Jul 28, 2014
Buck Crick wrote:
<quoted text>
There is a concerted effort to dilute the term. It is traceable and provable.
The effort is undertaken as advocacy for a philosophical position.
ad·vo·ca·cy noun \&#712;ad-v&#601;-k &#601;-s&#275;\
: the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal
That is not a legitimate or natural evolution of terminology. It is an attempt to benefit a particular point of view.
At the same time, don't you have to admit that sometimes the definitions of words change due to changes in societal attitudes. One of the most dramatic changes is in the definition of the n-word. Early in this century, dictionaries defined it as a colored person, sometimes noting that it was pejorative in nature. Now it is defined as the single most offensive word in the English language. Other pejoratives regarding race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, and sexual orientation, once considered relatively benign, are not far behind it.

"Atheist" was similarly used as a pejorative during the first half of the twentieth century. Often equated with communism, atheists were considered to be the lowest of the low. To some extent, that's still true, but the hard edge of hatred has faded. perhaps that's because, while only about 2% of the population self-identify as atheists, the 26% who no longer believe in God influence public attitudes enough to mitigate that edge. Or it could be that atheists' increased visibility makes us seem less unamerican that we used to. I think this trend is likely to continue, and as attitudes change, the word's meaning may change with it. Definitions that describe us as wicked, evil, or dangerous are likely to be dropped.

Is there an element of manipulation in the process? Perhaps. But such manipulations are not likely to have a lasting effect. It's more likely that the definitions will change to reflect changes both in the reality and the public perception of what atheism and atheists really are.

That sticks in your craw, I know. Can't be helped.
Patrick

United States

#20 Jul 29, 2014
"A(<no)theism"

Dawkins abandoned this philosophy ?

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