Author Topic: What do you mean by "Atheist"?  (Read 3244 times)

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Offline magicmiles

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What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« on: May 19, 2013, 05:41:13 PM »
I know there have been threads in the past which sort of address this, but a few things I've read recently suggest perhaps its time to do this again.

The subject of what it means to be atheist has recently been dicsussed in the "What would it take to change your views" thread, and, to a lesser extent, the "Why is murder wrong?" thread.

From those threads come these quotes:

There are no gods, according to atheism.


Most atheists do not, in fact, say that god does not exist.

You can see why sometimes the definition of atheist can become confusing to casual observers. I ofetn see similar quotes from members which cast doubt on what is and isn't being claimed.

So, here's an opportunity for atheists on the site to express an clearly as possible what they actually believe, or don't believe, about a deity. Is it lack of belief in a theistic claim, or is it an independent, positive assertion that deities do not exist?
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Online Azdgari

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2013, 06:27:07 PM »
Words are all subjective, eh?  This is a tricky subject, and a good question.  Whole long threads have been devoted to arguing it, among self-identifying atheists.  I personally define "an atheist" as "one who does not believe in the existence of any deities".  So someone who has been introduced to the concept of deities, but has not been convinced of one's existence, is an atheist even if he or she doesn't positively believe them not to exist.
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Offline Betelnut

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2013, 07:18:58 PM »
Theism:  belief in God: belief that one God created and rules humans and the world

Atheism:  the opposite of theism.  Lack of belief in god, lack of belief...yadda yadda yadda.


Offline The Gawd

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2013, 07:43:31 PM »
I think it depends on the discussion.

Point is I dont think we can state that no god exists, but we can state that all of the presented god models dont exist AND that there is no reason to think one that hasnt been presented exists. there would be an infinite # god possibilities for us to entertain and who has time for that?

Online Jag

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2013, 09:33:50 AM »
Short answer - It means I don't believe in whatever God is under discussion.

Longer - I generally let the listener interpret what I mean. I also rarely talk about this IRL unless I know the person pretty well already - I've shared some of the negative responses I've gotten from people I would have expected to know better, so I just don't leave myself open to that kind of abuse anymore. I don't bring it up in day to day life - it just doesn't come up if I don't mention it, and I generally extract myself from religious conversations rather than go into it. There are certain exceptions, of course.

If the other person asks questions, I elaborate or clarify. I don't generally claim that no god exists at all (although I strongly lean that direction) unless I'm either being willfully difficult or am completely out of patience; I simply state that I see no evidence to convince me of the existence of a god, and plenty to convince me otherwise. In my most generous moments, I will even acknowledge that I allow for a deistic god, or perhaps that pantheism could explain reality - but that's usually a "smooth the ruffled feathers" sort of concession more than a statement of my position.
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Online One Above All

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2013, 11:10:12 AM »
Gnostic atheist - I know there are no gods.
Agnostic atheist - I don't believe in any gods, but I'm not sure they don't exist.

It's that simple.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 11:15:40 AM by One Above All »
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Offline Traveler

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2013, 11:14:17 AM »
Many people make a distinction between "soft" and "hard" atheists.

Basically, atheism is about belief, while agnosticism is about knowledge.

Most atheists appear to be agnostic (soft) atheists. That is to say that they do not believe in god(s) but do not know that there are no gods. If solid, reproducible proof were given, most, if not all, atheists would, of course, believe.

On the other hand, most of us also seem to believe that the lack of evidence is so compelling that the nod to possible gods is a very tiny one, and we will be surprised as all get out if any of the gods we've heard about actually exist.
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Offline neopagan

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2013, 12:03:53 PM »
Gnostic atheist - I know there are no gods.
Agnostic atheist - I don't believe in any gods, but I'm not sure they don't exist.

It's that simple.

^  excellent - that is pretty simple... I like simple a lot.  Notice how there's no school of apologetics for atheists?  Good, cause I was tired of backflips and flip flops!
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Offline wright

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2013, 12:16:50 PM »
^^^
What Traveler said. I don't think the existence of gods can be absolutely ruled out. That's a function of how logic works.

However, the various magnifications and distortions of itself that humanity has claimed as gods can be dismissed until actual evidence is presented.
Live a good life... If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.
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Offline Seppuku

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2013, 12:43:34 PM »
I really does depend. What Jag says is right, though folks will jump between what they mean be 'atheism' and I can definitely understand why it can be confusing it and it's why I try to avoid it as much as possible.

By simple definition all 'atheism' is, is the lack of belief in any deities. That is it. It's nothing more, it is nothing less. Atheism is not a 'proper noun' so it should really only be capitalised when it is grammatically correct. Normally I'm not a grammar Nazi, but when it comes to terms like 'atheism', the difference in the 'A' can imply two very different things and give people the wrong idea. For example, I am a dentist and I am a Dentist. The former suggests that my profession is in dentistry, where as 'Dentist' suggests I am a part of some kind of organisation, a specific group of people united by the certain standards of dentristy, perhaps something like the British Dentistry Association. Atheism is like the former, to be an atheist you're not a member of 'anything', so atheism doesn't need to be treated like a proper noun. If you're a Christian, you may not necessarily belong to any church but you are the member of a religion.

However, there are atheists united by similar thinking and similar ideals and for me, but I don't think there's actually a term to group them, they may be referred to as 'atheists' and you might find 'Atheism', with that capital 'a' to be fitting, giving it a double meaning, but I don't think it has quite entered the English language as such and if 'Atheism' were to become an organisation, I think I would find a new way to describe myself, whilst I respect many atheist peers, I don't want my lack of belief in any deities to be organised. I guess it's the same way some theists feel about organised religion.

Personally, as far as atheism goes, I am agnostic atheist. But I do not agree with the terms 'soft' and 'hard' atheist, I think it applies well in philosophies like determinism, because you could argue different levels of determinism. Of course a hard determinist doesn't believe free will exists. A soft determinism believes free will exists to a degree but the degree can vary depending on who you ask. For atheism, gnosticism and agnostism are pretty binary, it's "do" or "don't", like atheism and theism. Gnostic = with knowledge, agnostic = without knowledge, you can't "partially know" just as you don't "partially believe".
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Offline jdawg70

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2013, 01:01:24 PM »
Ignostic atheist[1] is probably the closest descriptor for me.  Once a discussion is underway, I may put on the hat of the gnostic atheist (no, an all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent sentient entity that unconditionally loves any and everything does not exist), or I may put on the hat of the agnostic atheist (I do not believe that the concept of 'love' has an associated disembodied willful sentience behind it).

(I've tried the label 'semantic atheist', but that doesn't really provide any clarity or insight into my position)
 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism
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Offline bertatberts

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2013, 03:59:51 PM »
I am technical an atheist; However an atheist is not something that you so much are. Rather, it's something you are from a theistic perspective. Ultimately the word only says what you're not, that the term "theist" is not applicable to you. It is a negative label; I don't wish to label myself negatively. Even theists themselves are atheists in regards to other religions, hence the term atheist applies to both, making the term meaningless.
 
An atheist has no belief I repeat that no believe in god/gods, he also has no belief in fairies and elves etc.  That’s not to say that any of those things couldn't exist, it is just simply unreasonable to have a belief in such things, atheist's simply lack belief.
Atheists do not invoke any concept of god to explain any phenomenon or solve any philosophical conundrum, and they see no compelling reason to.
Atheist do not profess to have the truth, it is simply that it is unreasonable, without further qualifying evidence.
An atheist is simply someone who does not posit a god-concept to explain anything or solve any problem, it is not mutually exclusive with agnostic. You can be agnostic with respect to some god-concepts while maintaining an atheistic nature toward them all.

It would be extremely foolish to say they believe god doesn't exist, the non-existence of a thing can never be conclusively proved because there is always the theoretical assumption that the thing exists but has not been seen yet or it exists in a place that cannot be visited. Unless all places in the universe have been visited and are being constantly observed, we cannot be absolutely certain.

Atheist is simply "without god(s)" from the Greek origin of the word. The same way asexual is "without sex" and amoral is "without moral(s)." The same way achromatic is "without colour" and aphasia is "without ability to express or understand language."

The following definition of Atheism was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d (MD, 1963).

"An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work for now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.

An Atheist believes that only in the knowledge of himself and the knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfilment.

He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

He believes that we are our brother's keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”


So to sum it up an atheist is a morally better person, than any theist could aspire to be. The atheist does good things simply because it is the right thing to do, and simply for the betterment of his fellow man.

The one, true definition of 'Atheist' is 'without belief'.
A-Theist.
The "A" prefix means without/non/aint got no.
As in....
Asexual=having no sex or sexual organs.(not a belief there’s no sex organs)
Amoral=without moral.(not a belief there’s no morals)
Apolitical=not political.(not a belief there’s no politics)
Atypical=not typical.(not a belief there not typical)
Asymmetric=not symmetrical.(not a belief there’s no symmetry)
Atheist=not theist.(not a belief there’s no god) that’s  IT. No other assumptions can be made from it.

Incidentally,  I label myself as a Humanist.
We theists have no evidence for our beliefs. So no amount of rational evidence will dissuade us from those beliefs. - JCisall

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Offline Graybeard

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2013, 04:31:51 PM »
I looked at the Oxford English Dicitionary, it is a poor entry for atheism

Quote
atheism, n.
Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God. [EditGB: this should, of course, be "the existence of a god or gods."]

agnostic, n. and adj.
 1. A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of immaterial things, especially of the existence or nature of God.

2. In extended use: a person who is not persuaded by or committed to a particular point of view; a sceptic. Also: person of indeterminate ideology or conviction; an equivocator.

These two definitions of agnostic should be kept separate. As far as religion is concerned, only definition 1 applies.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline magicmiles

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2013, 04:36:17 PM »
Thanks for your replies. I hope Jetson clarifies his position also, but he seems to be  amuch less frequent visitor here these days.
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Offline nogodsforme

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2013, 04:54:59 PM »
I'm pretty hardcore as far as all supernatural stuff is concerned. I agree with Penn and Teller about gods, witches, demons, angels, ESP, telepathy, past lives, UFO abductions, near death experiences and so forth: none of it is real.

I've been told by lots of people from different cultures that this or that impossible magical thing really exists, and anyone who thinks about it would agree. And most of those people think that any other culture's magical stuff is hilariously stupid, and any thinking person would know that. 

No supernatural beings, forces or power have any evidence, so I am inclined to say none of them exist. If a god ever talks to me, or an alien beams me aboard his ship, I'll be sure to let you know.
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline Betelnut

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2013, 06:50:04 PM »
I'm pretty hardcore as far as all supernatural stuff is concerned. I agree with Penn and Teller about gods, witches, demons, angels, ESP, telepathy, past lives, UFO abductions, near death experiences and so forth: none of it is real.

I've been told by lots of people from different cultures that this or that impossible magical thing really exists, and anyone who thinks about it would agree. And most of those people think that any other culture's magical stuff is hilariously stupid, and any thinking person would know that. 

No supernatural beings, forces or power have any evidence, so I am inclined to say none of them exist. If a god ever talks to me, or an alien beams me aboard his ship, I'll be sure to let you know.

Me too.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2013, 02:32:07 AM »
You can see why sometimes the definition of atheist can become confusing to casual observers. I ofetn see similar quotes from members which cast doubt on what is and isn't being claimed.

True.  If only everyone who said they were an atheist meant exactly the same thing by it.

You know, like when someone says they are a Christian.....  ;D
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline Add Homonym

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #17 on: May 21, 2013, 11:16:24 AM »
What I typically mean, when I say atheist, is someone who was at heist, or was at least present, when stuff was stolen.

An agnostic is someone who is "ag no stick", which means that silver will not stick to him. Typically, this is a vampire, or werewolf who has super powers, to avoid being skewered by silver crucifixes.

An agnostic atheist, is a super vampire who was at the heist, to obtain any spare silver, so that they could hunt stupid vampires, or start a colloidal silver shop on ebay.

Typically, an agnostic vampire has acquired his immunity to silver crucifixes, by Buddhist meditation, so as to achieve a total lack of belief in God. Stupid vampires who believe in God, tend to die when skewered by a silver crucifix.

Humans, in general, don't waste any opportunity to be unfathomably stupid - Dr Cynical.

Offline neopagan

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2013, 11:30:34 AM »
How do you know I am a vampire - you have never met me.... LOL

Even stickier question is what do you mean by "christian?"  We would have 90,000 definitions...
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Offline Tonus

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #19 on: May 21, 2013, 12:23:38 PM »
So, here's an opportunity for atheists on the site to express an clearly as possible what they actually believe, or don't believe, about a deity. Is it lack of belief in a theistic claim, or is it an independent, positive assertion that deities do not exist?

I do not believe that any god exists.  I think people get hung up on whether it allows for acceptance of the existence of a specific god if sufficient proof was provided.  When I say things like "I don't believe that unicorns exist" I am not being snarky (well, not every time, anyway).  It is the same assertion for me.  If someone wants to read that as me saying "god cannot possibly exist," that's not my problem.

As far as I am concerned, all of the haggling over the definition of the word is the same as the arguments about whether atheism is a religion or not.  I think what happens is that theists get tired or aggravated as they try to prove something that has insufficient or poor evidence in its favor, so they try to turn it around.  Which is why atheists wind up having to constantly remind people that (a)atheism is a lack of belief, not a belief in a specific god or gods and (b)the burden of proof is therefore not on the person who ISN'T making a specific claim.

Theists would do better if they stopped worrying about how I define the word "atheist" and started worrying about why they can't produce enough evidence for god to even get their own stories together, much less convince the non-believer.

Offline bertatberts

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #20 on: May 21, 2013, 01:09:40 PM »
How do you know I am a vampire - you have never met me.... LOL

Even stickier question is what do you mean by "christian?"  We would have 2.5 billion 90,000 definitions...
Fixed it for you.
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Offline jdawg70

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #21 on: May 21, 2013, 01:29:32 PM »
How do you know I am a vampire - you have never met me.... LOL

Even stickier question is what do you mean by "christian?"  We would have 90,000 definitions...
Based on your avatar, I can say that you are immortal.  Vampires are immortal.  Ergo, you are a vampire.

By chance do you weigh the same as a duck?
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Offline neopagan

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #22 on: May 21, 2013, 01:37:51 PM »
Thanks bertatberts... my calculator is solar, so it craps out quick when you have to use it in the dark

jdawg70... I weigh the same as a duck, but I cannot float... so logically I'm a vampire
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Online Jag

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #23 on: May 21, 2013, 01:48:24 PM »
^^^or a very small rock.
"It's hard to, but I'm starting to believe some of you actually believe these things.  That is completely beyond my ability to understand if that is really the case, but things never cease to amaze me."

Offline neopagan

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #24 on: May 21, 2013, 01:49:43 PM »
... busted, I'm really gravy!
If xian hell really exists, the stench of the burning billions of us should be a constant, putrid reminder to the handful of heavenward xians how loving your god is.  - neopagan

Offline natlegend

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #25 on: May 21, 2013, 09:29:13 PM »
What do you mean by "non-atheist'
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Offline hickdive

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #26 on: May 22, 2013, 03:35:42 AM »
What does atheist mean?

It means exactly what christians think about Zeus. Ra, Thor, Mithra et al.

Stupidity, unlike intelligence, has no limits.

Offline Graybeard

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #27 on: May 22, 2013, 06:04:39 AM »

There are no gods, according to atheism.


Most atheists do not, in fact, say that god does not exist.


Jetson gives the correct definition. Pianodwarf is more cautious. I suspect he is cautious so as to avoid the positive statement “There are no gods”. This caution may be based upon the dictum, usually reserved for those who claim a god to exist, of “He who asserts must prove[1].”

I think that he is being overcautious. For the statement “There are no gods” to have any opportunity of being spoken, there must previously have been the statement, “Gods exist.” Thus, it is the first positive claim that has to be proven[2], not the denial.

I would go as far as to say that someone who does not say that gods do not exist and takes that as their final position would be better described as an agnostic. Descriptions involving two negatives are rarely satisfactory as they do not actually state a position, rather they simply exclude one factor. E.g. “A tiger is an animal that John does not describe as one of the dog family.”

It could be that Pianodwarf is tipping his hat to the proposition that gods can neither be proven nor disproven but I do not believe the latter to be the case as long as the standard of proof is accepted to be a reasonable one – i.e. the current standard that would satisfy an ordinary and disinterested person for or against the acceptance of any significant claim.
 1. or, as he classically put it, “It's a burden of proof issue.  Most atheists do not in fact insist that the universe had no creator, but even if we did, the one claiming that it did have a creator would still bear a greater burden of proof than the naysayer because the one claiming a creator is making a claim that extends ontology, and such claims always carry a greater burden of proof than claims that an ontological extension does not exist.
 2. This is the “claim that extends ontology”
« Last Edit: May 22, 2013, 06:08:16 AM by Graybeard »
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: What do you mean by "Atheist"?
« Reply #28 on: May 22, 2013, 06:34:31 AM »
For what it's worth, my position is this....

I am generally agnostic to gods.  I cannot definitely state "there are none" because it is possible that some hitherto unexamined god may exist in some way I have not yet considered.

I am however atheist to all the gods that I have considered and examined.  Once claims stat being made about gods, I take a look at those claims and - so far - have found all of them wanting.  So I am atheist towards specific gods.

And while I am philosophically agnostic in general, I am atheist to all gods in practice.  This is partly as a natural follow-on from having looked at a number of proffered gods and found nothing that supports them (after several dozen "cry wolfs", you feel less inclined to look charitably on the next cry); partly because I have a feeling that after so MUCH fruitless investigation, I'd have seen SOMETHING by now; and partly because - in purely practical terms - one HAS to operate in a particular way.  Example - I may be intellectually agnostic to the fairies in my garden, but in practice I am an atheist as I do not ever leave milk out for them "just in case".
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?