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What is Atheism? Overview of How Atheism is Defined in Dictionaries, By Atheists


What Is Atheism? Why Atheists Define Atheism Broadly?:

Theism, broadly defined, is just the belief in the existence of at least one god. Contrasted with this is atheism: broadly defined, atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of any gods. Most disagreement over this comes from Christians who insist that atheism must be the denial of gods, or at least of their god. Mere absence of belief in gods is, they claim, properly labeled agnosticism — even though agnosticism has it's own definition and is about a different concept entirely. Why Atheists Define Atheism Broadly...

Strong Atheism vs. Weak Atheism:

The more common understanding of atheism among atheists is "not believing in any gods." No claims or denials are made — an atheist is a person who is not a theist. Sometimes this broader understanding is called "weak" or "implicit" atheism. There is also a narrower sort of atheism, sometimes called "strong" or "explicit" atheism. Here, the atheist explicitly denies the existence of any gods — making a strong claim which will deserve support at some point. Strong Atheism vs. Weak Atheism...

Why are there Misunderstandings About Atheism?:

Misunderstandings arise because many theists imagine that all atheists fit a narrow, limited concept of atheism. Reliance on dishonest apologists and cheap dictionaries only exacerbates the problem. It is possible that some theists feel that since they are claiming the existence of their god, then anyone who does not agree with them must be claiming the exact opposite — a serious misunderstanding of not only basic logic but also how human belief systems operate. Misunderstandings About Atheism...

How do Modern Dictionaries Define Atheism?:

A common theme in good dictionary definitions is the primary use of "disbelieve" when defining atheism. When we take a closer look at the word "disbelieve," however, we find two senses: an active and a passive. In the passive sense, "disbelieve" simply means "not believe" — thus a person who disbelieves a claim may simply not accept the truth of the claim without going any further, like asserting the opposite. Modern Dictionaries on Atheism...

How do Online Dictionaries Define Atheism?:

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. Like printed dictionaries, most online dictionaries include “disbelieve” in the definition of atheism and, therefore, implicitly support the broader definition of atheism as the absence of belief in gods. Online Dictionaries on Atheism...

How do Specialized Reference Books Define Atheism?:

Specialized reference materials are designed not to provide general information for a general audience but, rather, information on specific topics like religion, sociology, or other social sciences. Their value here is in the fact that they provide insight into what scholars from different fields think of when it comes to the concept of atheism — and many of these scholars agree that atheism is the absence of belief in gods. Specialized Reference Books on Atheism...

How did Early Freethinkers Define Atheism?:

Some apologists argue that the broader definition of atheism is a recent creation, but they are wrong. Atheists and freethinkers have defined atheism relatively consistently over the past couple of centuries. Although a few have focused solely on the sense of 'strong' atheism, many more have differentiated between 'weak' and 'strong' atheism. As early as 1772, freethinkers treated atheism as broadly encompassing the absence of belief in gods. Early Freethinkers on Atheism...

How do Modern Atheists Define Atheism?:

A few contemporary atheists restrict the definition of atheism to just the sense of 'strong' atheism, but most do not. Most instead point out the difference between 'weak' atheism and 'strong' atheism, arguing that the former is the broader and more commonly found form of atheism. Modern Atheists on Atheism...

How do Theologians Define Atheism?:

Although misunderstandings about the definition of atheism have tended to come from theists, it is also true that many theists have recognized that atheism has a broader sense than simply 'denial of the existence of gods.' Included here are quotes from a few of them. Theologians on Atheism...

Debating the Definition of Atheism:

Debates about the definition of atheism are common — far too common, frankly, but there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done about this. Sometimes there are poor reasons for disagreements, as when theists and even some atheists object to the implications of weak atheism and feel a need to reject it. Sometimes there are good reasons for disagreements, as when philosophers find weak atheism too uninteresting to write much about and prefer to focus on strong atheism — but don’t want to qualify their use of terminology all the time.

When you come right down to it, though, we can’t ignore the fact that there are people who do believe in some sort of “god” without claiming to know for sure one exists and there are people who don’t believe in any such thing without claiming to know for sure than none can or do exist. They share in common a refusal to make knowledge claims, which justifies calling them all agnostics — but if the former are agnostic theists, then what can the latter be if not agnostic atheists?

No debate over the definition of atheism can cause the existence of such people to cease — and not only do they exist, but their position is distinct enough from agnostic theism to justify differentiation. Using words like “nontheist” hardly seems to help and the similarities between them and the narrow definition of atheism are close to the similarities between agnostic theism and non-agnostic theism. There doesn’t appear to be any good reason to refuse to apply the “atheist” label to them — and given how much variety there exists within theism, why can’t there also be a bit of variety with atheism?

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