You asked: Atheism Defined

The Lawyer (C.H.McDermott) posted this: Please define atheism last week, and many replied. This video is one of the best illustrations of what atheism is, and how it differs from agnosticism. The “default” position in the marketplace of ideas is non-belief.  To convince others of a position, evidence is needed, thus the “burden of proof”. Since there is no direct evidence to support the existence of the Gods claimed by (your religion here) people must rely on “belief” in the absence of proof.  Many religious people want to define atheism as “The belief that no gods exist” because they want to make it seem like a position of faith. Pretending that people who do not share your belief system also have a faith based position demands much less intellectual discipline than facing the burden of proof  that claims of the supernatural require.

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Posted by on October 18, 2010. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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18 Responses to You asked: Atheism Defined

  1. A Michael J. Scott

    October 18, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Very interesting video. Thanks MH!

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  3. The Lawyer

    October 18, 2010 at 11:10 am

    That was a good explanation. Covered all the bases really well. It even touched on my concern, that defining atheism is a very allusive enterprise.

  4. Stimpson

    October 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    A time-saving tip: You can watch the two minutes beginning at 3:50 and get all you need to know.
    a = without
    theism = belief in god(s)

    As I’ve mentioned before, it’s no more complicated than that.

    • Mother Hen

      October 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm

      If it were that simple, intelligent people would not ask about it. I particularly liked the courtroom analogy, which I thought ought to make it resonate more with the Lawyer (who I am having difficulty calling by his new name.)

      • Stimpson

        October 18, 2010 at 1:47 pm

        But it is that simple. That’s the definition.

      • C.H. McDermott

        October 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm

        C.H. McDermott, here. I respectfully disagree, Stimpson. I believe it is that simple for you, but other atheist simply have different explanations. You are a mixed lot. It’s as much a cultural issue as a philosophical one. If I am not logged on I pop up as The Lawyer.

        • Stimpson

          October 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm

          We are a mixed lot because absence of a belief in god(s) is all we have in common, just as all theists have in common is holding belief in god(s). I would no more expect a comprehensive explanation of what all atheists believe than I would expect a comprehensive explanation of what all theists believe. The best you can do in defining atheism is “an absence of belief in god”, just as the best you can do in defining theism is “belief in god.” If you’re expecting more, you’re expecting too much.

          You’re a smart guy, C.H., but one thing about smarties is they sometimes complicate things too much.

          • C.H. McDermott

            October 19, 2010 at 7:41 am

            You’ve made my day, Stimpson. “You’re a smart guy.” I am going to make my wife read that sentence a few times out loud. However, I fear she will only agree with the second half of that statement, about complicating shit.

          • Hermes

            April 6, 2011 at 10:09 am

            Stimpson, well said. In an attempt to simplify things a bit more, I usually point out what a theist is;

            * theist – Someone who believes that god(s) exist.

            That is usually not controversial at all, though many people who are unsure about what atheism or theism is tend to ignore the theism part and they focus entirely on the seemingly more nebulous atheist part. So, knowing what a theist is, the answer to the question ‘What is an atheist?’ becomes obvious;

            * atheist – Someone who does not believe that god(s) exist.

            In other words, anyone who is not a theist is an atheist; a non-theist.

  5. Holte Ender

    October 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    If you do not believe in God or Gods, then you have to be an atheist. Agnostics say there is no proof there is a God.

    Atheists seem to be 100% sure there is no God, just like certain theists are 100% sure that is a God. I have a hard time being 100% sure about anything.

    • Stimpson

      October 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

      Atheists might seem to be 100% certain but … Richard Dawkins has said you could put belief and non-belief on a 7-point scale with 7 being absolute certainty there is no god. He further said he would put his own non-belief at about 6.9 – not 100% certainty, in other words. Dawkins, a well-known atheist, seems to agree that, as a Saul Bellow character said, there’s a teeny possibility that there is a god because “nothing’s too rum to be true.”

    • Adam H.

      October 19, 2010 at 11:54 am

      Holte, there is a difference between disbelief and lack of belief. Disbelief is a claim, while lack of belief is not. Lack of belief is the default when nothing is known.

      The agnostic position is that there are some things which cannot be known. Gnosticism says that everything can be known.

      Agnostic and atheist are not points on the same intellectual continuum. Instead, the relationship between them is better described by this image: http://www.lousycanuck.ca/wp-content/uploads/atheist_chart.gif (not my site, btw).

  6. A Michael J. Scott

    October 18, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Interesting discussion. I don’t believe in God or Gods. I think it nonsense, at least the way religion describes their deities. That, in my humble opinion, makes me an Atheist (not?).

    • Mother Hen

      October 18, 2010 at 6:41 pm

      I would have to say I am an atheist in regards to all the claims I have heard as yet about the things people reference as “Gods”, but I admit there could be an unseen force out there, uniting all of us (the unseen hand of empathy? a shared consciousness) that provides a connection. Since there is of yet not enough proof to sway my opinion, and we can’t know yet I consider myself an agnostic in regards to claims like these.

      Science is providing more and more clues as to the nature of our consciousness, and how evolution has shaped our psychology. I am interested to see where this will lead.

    • Hermes

      April 6, 2011 at 10:15 am

      Yes. Anyone who is not a theist is an atheist.

      The video does a good job of addressing the ‘So, all rocks are atheists?’ comments.

      Note that even though I’ve discussed these topics for many years with many people, I still had to go back and view the video a few times to make sure that his reasoning was solid; initially, I thought he was making a few claims that were not true or were not accurate enough, though after careful review I have to say he’s spot on accurate.

  7. osori

    October 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    It’s interesting to know there’s significant disagreement among atheists as well as among theists.

    The Abrahamic religions all condemn unbelievers but I think they mean pagans. There doesn’t seem to be much mention of atheists (as far as I know) in the Quran and Bible.

    I don’t know if it means they only had an issue with polytheism but not atheism, or if atheism is a comparatively recent phenomena?

    • C.H. McDermott

      October 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      I would bet my left nut there were no atheist back in Biblical times. “The Abrahamic religions all condemn unbelievers but I think they mean pagans. There doesn’t seem to be much mention of atheists (as far as I know) in the Quran and Bible.” Based on what I have read, that is dead on right. I know Stimpson would disagree with me and say I’m complicating shit in a too-smart-for-my-own-good sort of way, but atheism is all over the place.

      I think that’s the last I’ll say in the great atheist debate at MMA.