The Atheist Foundation of Australia defines Atheism as:


"the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural"


Sam Harris is known to "experiment" with personal meditation experiences. Here is what wikipedia has to say about Sam Harris and "spirituality":


"Harris wishes to incorporate spirituality in the domain of human reason. He draws inspiration from the practices of Eastern religion, in particular that of meditation, as described principally by Hindu and Buddhist practitioners. By paying close attention to moment-to-moment conscious experience, Harris suggests, it is possible to make our sense of "self" vanish and thereby uncover a new state of personal well-being."


He talks of mind states, of "not-self" and other terms which the AFA call on their forums "woo-woo".


The reason that the AFA would reject Sam Harris as an atheist is the last 3 words in their definition: "or the supernatural". They see atheism as rejecting not only god/gods (theo) but also the "supernatural", thereby turning atheism into atheiwoowoosm! They staunchly defend their definition beyond and rational logic. Only recently I have understood why that term is in there in the first place. The AFA are in fact, not an atheist organisation but a skeptics organisation. From their website:


" The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc began in South Australia in 1970 when the members of the Rationalist Association of SA decided that a name change would proclaim their basic philosophy"


So it appears that all they did was change their name but not their "clothes". This deceptive behaviour has caused some confusion on their forums but they still staunchly maintain their stance.


And the great irony in this whole issue? Sam Harris' books are on their recommended reading list!!!

Tags: atheist, australia, foundation, harris, meditation

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Mentioning is not cherry picking, as you know I don’t accept the definition anyway and neither should you. Just thought it was interesting coming from one of those scholars spending all that money on definitions.

Not addressing my other points about those definitions when you have just gone on and on how good they are, is interesting.

And I dunno, the schoolyard comment seems apt on reflection.




Your other points on the definitions are the use of the word belief/disbelief on which I 100% agree with you (that's why I didn't think it necessary to mention it) and the use of god or gods is what theism is about. Theism isn't the belief in a Christian god, it is the belief in any god - choose one: Thor, Zeus, Apollo, etc, etc. So I'm not sure what your point here is.


With regards to the use of the word disbelief, I think it is a lax usage that has been there since the time that theism was more prevalent in society. If you lobby these organisations and the end result of your lobbying is just to remove the word(s) belief/disbelief from the definition of atheism, that would be a great step forward for the world's understanding of what atheism is. But instead of trying to do something constructive about the definition, you staunchly defend an indefensible position in a very irrational and emotional manner.


Have I addressed all your points now?


Kind Regards,



Well, no, of course you haven't.  You've just shifted the goal posts from wonderful definitions made by clever persons and lots of money to why not ask the clever persons to change the definition.

That's enough for me, I can only stanz so much



I haven't shifted the goalposts, David, you just haven't been reading my responses. Clearly you also mean to fire your ad-hominem attacks at the "clever people", also known as academics and scholars. Well, that blows it! I was going to recommend that you read "The Cambridge Companion to Atheism" ( but given your attitude to both academics and reading per se, you will not have the pleasure to read the first 3 pages of the discussion on the definition of atheism. But for the record, this book contains essays from 18 of the world's leading scholars. But that clearly won't impress you.


This whole saga has me very disappointed about the leadership of atheism in Australia. A leadership that uses ad-hominem and emotion to argue its position. A leadership that has little regard for academics and scholars. What then of Schopenhauer? What of  Bertrand Russell? What of Nietzsche? What of the myriad of atheist philosophers? Too academic? Too scholarly?


I try to give you constructive advice and all I get is ad-hominem attacks without even the courtesy of having read any of the responses. I hope this is not an example of the way the AFA is being led otherwise the repercussions for atheism in Australia are dire.





"There is a small minority of Atheists not quite happy with that situation; with them stamping their feet behind closed doors in protest.  Their attempts to create instability and infighting in Atheism are pathetic and really shows the mentality.  Fortunately, they have never achieved anything but self-hurt and all signs are things will stay that way. 

This stuff I have listed is not a boast, it is how it is.  The AFA is carrying the load in Australia and would love nothing better than for other secular orgs to take some of it off of us."


Pathetic jabs about our self-worth aside, none of us have ever said that we are against all the things the AFA has accomplished. We all support battling irrationality, superstition and supernaturalism. The AFA does that, and we applaud and congratulate you for it. Way to go.

That's not the point: we're objecting to a specific point in your presentation, namely that the way you present yourself is by taking a word which is already subject to plenty of confusion, and have defined into a much more narrow context than any other atheist organisation has done (and also beyond a definition which can philosophically be maintained).


The attitude you have seems to be one of "If you're not in total support of us you're against us", and that's quite rare for a rationalist. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, and that - if I speak for myself - is what you're getting from me.


The fact of the matter is that there is a limit to how far you can redefine terms. The word atheism refers to a philosophical definition, and it is clear and has been used for over a hundred years: it refers to those who do not have a belief in a God.

Now, your problem seems to be that you think your organisation stands for more than just non-belief in God (which it certainly does) and so you want to reflect that sentiment. Allow me to suggest that completely changing a word which has a clearly-defined philosophical meaning is not the way to do this. If you want to reflect that the AFA is a group of atheists who feel that there is no reason to believe in either the supernatural or a God because there is a lack of reliable (scientific) evidence, then why don't you... just say that?


You could simply have on your home-page:

"The AFA speaks for those non-believers who trust in science and reliable evidence, and who want to crack down on the supernatural and the belief in a God because there's no evidence for those."

Whereas right now what you have is:

"The AFA is an atheist organisation" and then you quickly add: "But by the way, our definition of atheist is that of a person who trusts in science and reliable evidence, and who wants to crack down on the supernatural and the belief in a God because there's no evidence for those."


It seems to me that the first contains the exact same information as the second, with the added bonuses of: (1) being philosophically consistent (2) being understandable to everyone outside of the AFA (3) being consistent with the way all other atheist organisations around the globe use the word atheist (4) you won't confuse people about how the word atheist is used outisde of... well, your organisation.


I don't see why such a change towards a more consistent, logical (since it uses the logical definition of the word atheism) would stop you from being "an effective force against irrationality, superstition, and yes, the supernatural".


Maybe that makes our position more clear. Because I'm truly mystified as to why you are so emotionally attached to a word that you have defined yourself.


Kind regards,




It would not matter how the AFA defined Atheism, there would always be those not happy with it or the AFA. The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well in Australia.  

Apparently, our success disturbs some people, some people are disturbed already, (As should be obvious) others hold grudges for various real or imagined reasons (Which should also be obvious) and a few pedants are always lurking in the background.

Of course, others genuinely think the definition issue has greater meaning than does the AFA.  There is no harm in that, as long as it is not used as a lever in support of other agendas.  

Even though we would rather please everyone, the numbers of these are inconsequential.

I can only assume you did not read the links I posted.  They explain why the AFA adopted the definition.  No one else has to use the definition but I have noticed on the occasional blog that others have used it for the same reasons we do.

It is a working definition and is helpful to the AFA and it is benign as far as being good or bad for Atheism except in the minds of the before mentioned.

The AFA is an organisation with paid up members, not just internet members, although we have more of them than other groups in Australia.  The reason we don’t divulge our numbers is that AFA Committee Members sign a long-standing Privacy Charter to that effect.  Playing the numbers game has no benefits for Atheism.  I’m not going to expand on that as it would not be helpful to Atheism and promoting Atheism is what the AFA is all about.

Because of a lot of work by many individuals, the AFA is growing in stature in Australia more so than other groups.  Our formula for successfully promoting Atheism is working and there would be no way the AFA Committee would interfere with it, which includes changing the definition.

And kind regards to you also, Matt


Indeed, this thread.


Vangelis, I know I said I wouldn't be back, but this was too good to keep from you:


You are fond of the argument from authority.  Does having P.Z. Meyers agree with me make me a winner?  I think my arguments are sound without his endorsement.  Having him reach the same conclusion as me is reassuring, but not essential to me holding to my assertion that the AFA definition, which is a working definition and not some etymological type specimen, is a valid mechanism for use in acheiving the goals of that organisation.

Words change over time and the term atheist was originally employed to Christians for failing to recognise the Roman pantheon.  The word may change in meaning again in the future.  The AFA definition doesn't seek to make a change in the meaning of the word, but to maintain focus within the organisation.  David mentioned the way it stopped theists turning up and blathering on about the nature of belief and that's a good thing.  The AFA get my dues because they are kicking ass, regardless of how many people are on the books and how much displeasure they are causing dictionary atheists.


Hi Matt!


Great to have you back. Very interesting article from P.Z.Meyers. Let's look at his arguments against what he euphemistically likes to call "dictionary atheists":


Boy, I really do hate these guys.

some smug wanker


I hate those dictionary quoters


Hardly well thought out objective reasons for rejecting these atheists. I would suggest that P.Z.Meyers would not go astray with a little samatha and metta meditation - it might help with his anger and hatred (respectively). In fact he states:


asking why you are a person who does not believe in god is not answered when you reply, "Because I am a person who does not believe in god."


Well, that just about rejects about 99.9% of atheists in the world. It also negates the AFA's Mark "No Religion" campaign as they are urged to do so if they are "not religious". If you aren't an atheist just because you "don't believe in god" then you aren't an atheist if you are "not religious".


Frankly I'm quite surprised by P.Z.Meyer's position on this. Imagine if he lobbied for more lax definitions for biological terms, "species, sub-species, genus, etc" all become what we feel is right, not what the "dictionary definitions" dictate. After all, we're scientists, not "dictionary scientists". Imagine the mayhem in evolution let alone any other biological branch of science. On the evolutionary tree, branches will become leaves, leaves become branches, complete mayhem! No. Definitions are there for a reason - so that we can all be on the same page, we can all have the same understanding. It would wreak mayhem in science if we started redefining terms independently of the rest of the scientific community.


There was an excellent example of the effect of definitions in 2010 when the International Astronomical Union redefined what a planet is thereby excluding Pluto from that definition. Some scientists disagree with the reclassification. Tough. They will have to present their case to the international body that is responsible for the scientific definition of astronomical terms (that would be the IAU), not arbitrarily redefine the term planet just because they don't agree. They would just become a laughing stock in the scientific community.


Similarly, the AFA and it appears P.J.Meyers have some issue with the definition of atheism. Tough. If they disagree, they should lobby the relevant bodies to get the term redefined, not create complete and utter confusion by independently redefining a commonly understood and well-defined term.


Kind Regards,




PS, You still haven't PM'd me your CARM username. I'm eagerly awaiting! :)

What is CARM?  I'll have a look, but I am pretty sick of dealing with the online Christian community.  All my internetting other than at Atheist Nexus occurs under the name Worldslaziestbusker.


"Boy, I really do hate these guys.

some smug wanker


I hate those dictionary quoters"


does not constitute his argument, but his reaction to people who restrict their thinking on the matter to what the dictionaries state. 


Your species concept example is useful, but it doesn't support your argument, it counters it.  There are hundreds of species concepts.  There are definitions in dictionarys, text books, research papers, but the biological world doesn't look these up in order to work out what to do next:

Euchone variabilis: Hmmm.  Says here we're supposed to reproductively isolated.  You'd better head south.

Euchone limnicola: But we all had to head south when we diverged from the Serpulidae.  I want to go to Hawaii for a change.  

The word attempts to reflect reality, not make it.  Many definitions of species fall short of useful when you are trying to understand ecological processes. 

The Linnaean hierarchy is a (sometimes) useful construct but the levels Linnaeus chose to use are largely arbitrary.  The problems of trying to represent biological relationships within it are most evident in the crustacea, where some taxa require an additional fourteen levels (infraorder, superorder, subfamily etc.) in order for proposed lineages to remain monophyletic.  Some taxonomist propose chucking it entirely. 

The hierarchy is a good example of the shortcomings of language in reflecting reality.  We are constantly applying conceptual constructs to the real world and sometimes the words fall short.  The words don't really exist.  They are sounds we make and shapes we write, but you don't have to go to the shops because you've run out of "at."

Your problem is you have put your hand up to use the word "atheist," but other people disagree with the definition you have applied.  I can't stop you, but I won't use it to describe you because you hold and promote beliefs that don't fit with the way in which I use that word.  Unless you can convince the AFA to adhere to the definition you prefer, you are excluded.  The case you have made to justify that change is unconvincing. 

Museums are filled with taxonomic specimens defining species, genera, families etc, but the living populations have moved on.  The type specimens serve a purpose, but pretending that they define anything more than a population at a moment in time neglects the ecological processes that generated the diversity they represent.  Tying your language to dictionary definitions, while useful as a mechanism to keep meaning in the ball park, also ignores evolution, a particularly fast process in the case of the English language.

Just this morning I found a language anomaly in the Macquarie Dictionary, which describes the Coriolis effect as an imaginary force.  It's very much real and it's a deflection, not a force.  Good thing the laws of physics don't need to look up what they are before they act on bodies in motion.



Atheist: "I don't believe in god(s)".


P.Z.Meyers: "Oh, you can't be an atheist because that's the dictionary definition of atheism"


Me: "Rational argument? I think not!"

"He is railing against those people who are trying to limit the definition of the 'atheist' movement to its strictest sense~ no gods, when the movement itself needs more substance if it is to become anything more than arguing with people."


"To miss this blatantly obvious point is to continue a fight without substance, and to continue to alienate people without a purpose."


Oh, I get it. But to include the justification for one's atheism within the definition of atheism automatically limits those that have other reasons for calling themselves atheist. To deny the existence of god(s) is the common thread amongst atheists. That is not all we are. There are those that come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all sorts of beliefs (that's right, even atheists can have beliefs) and all sorts of practices, cultural backgrounds, etc. etc. The word atheist is actually self-explanatory if you know Greek and possibly that is my only failing - being of Greek ancestry and actually understanding the word from its native meaning. Oh, and being an engineer, insisting on clearly defined terms that are commonly agreed upon.


PS - Nice pic. My grandfather used to smoke a pipe.

An engineer, huh?  Do you drive trains or build bridges?  Either way, you clearly have the cleverness, but the word is less than definitive.  Oh noes, unclear definitions are hell on engineers.  Where will you go to work in the morning?


I consider myself a scientist.  I am not currently employed in research, but I am writing papers for peer reviewed scientific journals?  If I never get paid employment in research again, will I still be a scientist?  Can someone with no degree in science be a scientist?  Are creation scientists scientists? 

My use of the word scientist is conditional on the behaviour and approach of a person to the world around them.  Whether or not they have a science degree, a research position, a long list of references to their name is largely irrelevant.  If someone has a non scientific approach, I can't call them a scientist.  This includes anyone who starts with a conclusion and looks exclusively for facts to fit that conclusion.  Creationists are not scientists.  People who believe in unsupported, unfalsifiable aspects of the human mind that anyone not invested in the idea would consider a soul, are not atheists. 

In the case of both scientists and atheists, the processes behind the person's use of a noun are important.



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