When debating atheism online, people often rely on various online dictionaries. These are references which everyone has equal access to, unlike printed dictionaries which people may not have at all or may not have immediate access to. So, what do these online sources have to say about atheism?
A common theme throughout the definitions is the use of "disbelieve" when defining atheism. Some modern dictionaries drop it, but most comprehensive dictionaries do not. For some reason, however, people ignore this word and move right along to the secondary sense of "denial." When we take a closer look at the word "disbelieve," we find two senses: an active and a passive.
In the passive sense, "disbelieve" can simply mean "not believe" thus a person who disbelieves a claim may simply not accept the truth of the claim without going any further. This is the broadest sense of atheism, lacking belief in any gods. In the active sense, "disbelieve" involves deliberately refusing to believe something (possible reasons might include a lack of evidence or an incoherent claim). Once again, however, this is not the same as asserting that the claim is false and represents a slightly narrower version of weak atheism.
Strong atheism, the outright denial that any gods do or perhaps can exist, only appears with the secondary definition of theism: denial of the existence of a God (notice that in some dictionaries, the reference is simply to "God," not "gods" generally an understandable focus on the sort of theism common to the West). Thus, the definition of atheism encompasses both the "weak" and the "strong" senses of atheism used by atheists today. The same will be true, with minor changes in wording, through dictionary definitions below.
Definition of Atheism in Online Dictionaries:
- atheism: 1 archaic: ungodliness, wickedness; 2a : a disbelief in the existence of deity 2b: the doctrine that there is no deity.
- agnostic: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable; broadly: one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.
- disbelieve: transitive senses: to hold not worthy of belief; not believe. intransitive senses: to withhold or reject belief
- atheism Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods. The doctrine that there is no God or gods. Godlessness; immorality.
- agnosticOne who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.
- disbelieve: tr. To refuse to believe in; reject.; intr. To withhold or reject belief.
- atheism The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.
- disbelief: Not to believe; to refuse belief or credence to; to hold not to be true or actual.
- atheism 1 archaic: ungodliness, wickedness 2 : a disbelief in the existence of deity b: the doctrine that there is no deity
- disbelieve: transitive senses : to hold not worthy of belief : not believe; intransitive senses : to withhold or reject belief.
The Project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language provides an online version of Wester's 1913 dictionary. Technically this was a printed dictionary, but because it is available online I am including it on this page.
- atheist: 1. One who disbelieves or denies the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being. 2. A godless person. [Obs.] Syn. -- Infidel; unbeliever.
- Disbelieve: Not to believe; to refuse belief or credence to; to hold not to be true or actual.
- atheism: 1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being. 2. Godlessness.
- Disbelief: The act of disbelieving;; a state of the mind in which one is fully persuaded that an opinion, assertion, or doctrine is not true; refusal of assent, credit, or credence; denial of belief. Syn. -- Distrust; unbelief; incredulity; doubt; skepticism. -- Disbelief, Unbelief. Unbelief is a mere failure to admit; disbelief is a positive rejection. One may be an unbeliever in Christianity from ignorance or want of inquiry; a unbeliever has the proofs before him, and incurs the guilt of setting them aside. Unbelief is usually open to conviction; disbelief is already convinced as to the falsity of that which it rejects. Men often tell a story in such a manner that we regard everything they say with unbelief. Familiarity with the worst parts of human nature often leads us into a disbelief in many good qualities which really exist among men.
- Unbelief 1. The withholding of belief; doubt; incredulity; skepticism. 2. Disbelief; especially, disbelief of divine revelation, or in a divine providence or scheme of redemption.