There's a fundamental disconnect between atheists and the word "atheist". Part of this is because there isn't complete agreement on what the word means.

  • Lack of belief in God
  • Lack of belief in God's existence

Lack of belief in God could simply mean a choice not to believe in God because he is cruel or undesirable for some reason -- but does not specifically address the question of God's existence.

Lack of belief in God's existence is more specific but still leaves the door open for interpretation because the phrase "lack of belief" is ambiguous. It might be a matter of degree or preponderance of evidence and not an absolute statement of disbelief. A more definitive position would leave no doubts:

  • Denial of God's existence

Denial of God's existence leaves no wiggle-room for interpretation. It's a flat-out position that God does not exist.

It's been my experience that most long-time atheists do not deny God's existence and adopt a more scientific stance which is willing to consider any argument or evidence that might change their minds. They don't want to make claims they can't back up. They understand the need for rational integrity. Just as the unqualified claim of God's existence is an article of faith, so is the unqualified claim of God's nonexistence. There's no evidence either way. An atheist can claim that there is no evidence for God or the supernatural (and never has been) and that there's no compelling reason to believe there ever will be. But there is a possibility -- however vanishingly small -- that there could be. A creator God is not an impossible proposition given what we know thus far. Existence . . . whether it's God's, the universe's or ours -- is an ineffable mystery; the greatest mystery of all. Certainty is an illusion and a claim that science is careful to avoid. Our understanding of the universe has undergone multiple paradigm shifts and will experience more in the future.

Whether you're absolutely certain that God exists or does not exist, you're pretending to know facts you have no access to.

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Comment by Vasanth Ra on April 10, 2012 at 2:41am


Actually there is, given enough of a description, any contra-positive claim of existence is possible, if any part of the description deemed a necessity is disproved.


I'm discombobulated.I can't see otherwise.The words here in themself doesn't make any sense.Maybe I don't get it.


Here's a theory.Give me your take on this.

Man is confined by the laws of this Universe because he is a product of it.Whatever he thinks,imagines(let alone common sense) is confined to the fabric of space-time.He finds it difficult to even imagine what is there beyond our Universe because there is no space and time out there.Now suppose a god exists outside our Universe,a kind of god who created the initial conditions of our Universe and then left it to evolve on its own(this may sound like a fairy-tale but it's very much plausible).In this case,it's difficult to even make any description.


These are just my opinions and I personally don't believe in absolute,it's not that I don't want to take the burden of proof on my shoulders,its because I'm agnostic in nature,a vivid observer of science.The Principle of Uncertainty kicks my ass with much authority.


Comment by Atheist Exile on April 10, 2012 at 1:46am

We'll have to agree to disagree, Richard.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 10, 2012 at 1:12am

"insist that theists have not met their burden of proof for their extraordinary claim(s)."

Atheist doesn't lay burden of proof, reason does.

"I believe most atheists are actually agnostics."

There's no one or the other, …they address different things.

Belief is not knowledge, knowledge negates both belief and disbelief, …no need for them if one knows.

"But it's NOT the definition of agnosticism that most people think of."

So what? …reality is not a popularity contest, neither is context.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 10, 2012 at 1:08am

"Now, if only we could find a formal definition of atheism that meets your stated requirements . . ."

Non-belief in god(s)

Comment by Atheist Exile on April 10, 2012 at 1:04am

@Richard ∑wald,

Now, if only we could find a formal definition of atheism that meets your stated requirements . . .

My original OP dealt with the ambiguity of the word, "atheism". Part of that ambiguity is our inability to agree on what it SHOULD mean. Theists tend to identify atheists as God deniers. Atheists, in return, insist that theists have not met their burden of proof for their extraordinary claim(s). The stance of most atheists is conditional: predicated on the total lack of evidence or valid reason to base belief upon. Until that condition changes, there's no reason to believe in something nobody knows anything about.

Huxley coined the word, "agnosticism", so I'll defer to his definition. Based on his definition, I believe most atheists are actually agnostics. But remember: WE (not lexicographers) decide, by our usage, what words mean. If most atheists are actually agnostics who prefer the title of atheist, then we are, BY OUR USAGE, changing the definition of the word atheist.

Agnostics are commonly seen as "atheists without balls". Not by you or I, perhaps, but the perception is definitely out there. Atheists are commonly seen as "in your face" zealot know-it-alls. Not by you or I, perhaps, but the perception is definitely out there. I think most reasonable people don't want to be identified with either extreme: wimps or assholes. I, personally, would rather be an asshole than a wimp. But reasonable people also know the value of the uninformed opinion: nothing. So we identify with atheism because we're closer to denial of God than to mere doubt of God.

Although I defer to Huxley's definition of agnosticism, I also happen to agree with it. But it's NOT the definition of agnosticism that most people think of. And that's really what's most important: it's about what most people think of agnosticism -- not what the dictionary says it means. If literally up-to-date, the first definition of agnosticsim in the dictionary would be the one most commonly used; followed by the next most common, etc. And the same goes for the word, "atheism". If a dictionary's definition of atheism doesn't accommodate "agnostic atheists" like me (and many others), then it's not up-to-date.

I think you're more about nailing down definitive definitions for agnosticism and atheism. I say that's a futile effort.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 9:11am

Just to add (from your original post): "the phrase "lack of belief" is ambiguous."

You left out an important word, "in".

There are two types of "belief in/non-belief in" that apply to different propositions.

  • Commendatory - an expression of confidence in a person or entity, as in, "I believe in his abililty to do the job".
  • Existential claim - to claim belief in the existence of an entity or phenomenon with the implied need to justify its claim to existence. It is often used when the entity is not real, or its existence is in doubt. "He believes in witches and ghosts" or "many children believe in fairies" are typical examples.
~ The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 9:04am

The problem here isn't ambiguity, it's equivocation fallacy. Identifying and proving the fallacy eliminates the ambiguity. 

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 8:55am


Atheism: non-belief in* the existence of any creator deity(-cies) - moral agents(-cies).

* not to be confused with "commendatory", non-belief in.

Agnosticism: is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle... Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable."

~ T. H. Huxley, originator of the term; "agnosticism".

Venn Diagram (if  you want concise):

Comment by Atheist Exile on April 9, 2012 at 8:33am

You know what, Richard, I've read so many replies and have since slept 8 hours -- and I think I was misconstruing what you've previously said. Just to be sure I understand you, would you please state, in as few words as necessary, your definitions of (requirements for) agnosticism and atheism?

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 8:13am

"And we still don't understand these fundamentals completely."

Of course not, this is why science is inherently agnostic, it has to be in order to be self-correcting. I would submit that any having an atheist (or theist) position on the existence of any creator deities - moral agencies, and claims to be not agnostic, either:

  • Doesn't understand that these positions occupy different axes of meaning
  • Doesn't understand burden of proof (or that proof here is independent of bias, contextually)
  • has bought into a sophist/casuist epistomological construct (i.e. Ayn Rand Objectivism for the atheists, presuppositional apologetics for theists)
  • All of the above

"The way you contrast subjectivity with objectivity (placing things in context) appears to make unwarranted assumptions. Objectivity is not synonymous with reality, truth or certainty."

Reality isn't what needs to be objective here at all (it's not what I was addressing), it's explicitly implied by context that it's the frame of reference itself that is objective, this defines the terms of reference.

As a label or identity, this is fine:

As a term of meaning within the context of identifying a position (color = frame of reference = dictates terms of reference) it is not.



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