You can’t define atheism as a “lack of belief”

todocambiara2:

Something cannot be what it is not. Nothing is defined by what it is not. When you say, “Atheism is the lack of a belief,” you’ve done it, right there.

Atheism is (atheism being something) the lack of a belief (the lack of anything is nothing). You’re right in saying that atheism lacks belief, but not about what atheism is, only what it lacks. I you use the definition “the lack of”, you’re saying something is what it is not.

Evid3nc3:

“Something cannot be what it is not. Nothing is defined by what it is not.”

I disagree on this point.

If it is normally expected that something should have a property and it doesn’t, then it is perfectly fine to define it as what it is not.

For example, if gas normally has lead in it and you have created a type of gas that doesn’t have lead, it is perfectly fine to define it as: unleaded (“gas that does not have lead”).

And if people are normally theists (90% in America) and you are not, then it is perfectly fine to define yourself as: atheist (“not a theist”).

So what makes atheists unusual is precisely that they don’t have a property that most people throughout history have had: belief in God. Defining them that way distinguishes them. It says “we know most people feel they need this property, but we don’t feel that way, so we don’t have it.”

If it ever becomes the case that most people in the world are atheists, then the term “atheist” will become meaningless because there will be no sizable percentage of theists to contrast them with.

Here are other examples of things that are defined by what they are not:

flightless birds
hairless mammals
fat-free mayo
topless dancing
nonpartisan organization

In other words, if, in a particular context, something is expected to have a property and it doesn’t, then it is noteworthy to point out that it doesn’t have that property.

People in the modern world, especially America, are generally expected to have the property of “belief in God”, so if someone doesn’t have it, then it is noteworthy to point out their lack of that property.

So I am an:

atheistic human (or “atheist” for short)

13 comments on “You can’t define atheism as a “lack of belief”

  1. simulacrum says:

    It’s also useful to add the etymological argument. “a-” means “lack of”. Hence Apolitical = lacking a political opinion, Asexual = lacking gender differentiation, Atheist = lacking theism.

  2. Traveler says:

    I’d like to see todocambiara2 define a vacuum in terms of what it is instead of in terms of what it lacks.

    • Cale says:

      Or zero for that matter. By his logic since it represents nothing, therefore cannot be defined by that representation of nothing, since it’s existence hinges on what it is not, which is something.

      Am I wrong?

  3. Antifides says:

    He refuted himself in his own statement: “Nothing is defined by what it is not.”
    Yes, “nothing” IS defined by what it is not.

  4. Technically, atheism has a positive statement going along with it as well, i.e. that the God explanation is self-refuting or has various problems, and thus cannot be used.

    This is why the books ATHEISM: THE CASE AGAINST GOD and THEISM AND EXPLANATION are the best atheistic arguments out there right now.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      No, Strong Atheism, the stances of your books, makes positive statements.

      Agnostic Atheism does not. I am always open to new evidence. Show me adequate evidence, and I will believe in God. My position is open in a way that Strong Atheism, which is making a final, declarative statement, is not.

      • This reply will be a little long, since the issues to cover are so huge. I hope you can understand.

        Basically, I disagree. If I were to give you evidence for the existence of what people call God, you’d probably dismiss it, hoping that a better explanation will be found.

        If you were to see the Ten Commandments written on the moon, you’d probably not infer “God” straight away. You’d instead infer some unknown crazy astronaut who went up there to carve them into the surface. This explanation fits the data. Why else would it be in a language you could understand?

        If you were to see evidence for an absolute beginning of the Level II-III multiverse as provided by inflationary cosmology, you wouldn’t infer a creator. Instead, you’d postulate some unknown mechanism to generate the wave-function.

        Why do you do this? Because you see all arguments for God as “god of the gaps” arguments.

        And why do you do THIS? Because to use “God” as an explanation is fraught with problems of its own.

        Even Dawkins’s “weak atheism” is based on the improbability of God. As bad the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit is, it still uses this as its main premises (“God = unnecessary complexity”).

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of_theistic_probability

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_atheism#Scope_of_application

        Either that, or you put God in the “impossible entities” group that includes fairies, ghosts, and Flying Spaghetti Monsters. It’s not just that we don’t have good reason to think they exist. We instead have good reason to believe that they DON’T exist.

        I have a friend who’s a weak atheist, and he uses the “problem with God as an explanation” argument all the time.

        The only difference between “strong” and “weak” atheism is that while the former denies the existence of God completely, the latter says that there “probably is no God, so there is no need to believe in it.”

        You also wrote: “No, Strong Atheism, the stances of your books, makes positive statements.”

        Why, then, did you make a video titled “Positive Atheism”? ;)

        • evid3nc3 says:

          All of your criticisms are focused on me accepting the existence of God based on the crappy evidence that theists typically present. Which, as you pointed out, is no better than the evidence for fairies, ghosts, or UFOs.

          I’m talking about accepting the existence of God based on good evidence. You know, like the evidence we have for viruses, black holes, or electrons. Not necessarily obvious at first, but testable and definitive.

          • Once again, long reply. Sorry.

            “All of your criticisms are focused on me accepting the existence of God based on the crappy evidence that theists typically present. Which, as you pointed out, is no better than the evidence for fairies, ghosts, or UFOs.”

            No. My criticism deals with how you interpret the “evidence”. Theism handles ultimate explanation, which is an extremely open territory. This is why theists offer evidence you consider “crappy”, like the cosmological and teleological arguments.

            Even when the criticisms of the arguments are met, people will still not accept the conclusion that “God did it” and will hold out for another explanation, and once again, we find ourselves back at the idea of whether or not “God” is a good explanation for what we know.

            “I’m talking about accepting the existence of God based on good evidence. You know, like the evidence we have for viruses, black holes, or electrons. Not necessarily obvious at first, but testable and definitive.”

            Ah, the “it needs to be testable to be true” counterargument.

            If this describes your attitude, you might want to watch this video my friend made:

            But even if you don’t, I’ll still try to address your point.

            Things do not need to be testable in order to exist. Take, for example, various mathematical abstracta or the “provisional hypotheses” of your epistemology. We can’t verify their existence experimentally, we just need to either infer them as the best explanations of things given what we know from other fields, or accept them a priori. A metaphysical absolute like “God” is one of these open questions.

            Cosmologists also infer the existence of something like a “bouncing universe” or a “multiverse” by the same method. We can’t experimentally test these things, let alone observe the “other universes” that are being postulated, but they’re still valid as explanations for the patterns we see in our own universe.

          • evid3nc3 says:

            God, as postulated by theists, is not an abstract principle which must be provisionally inferred, like the bases of an epistemology.

            God is supposed to be THE driving force in the universe. It is supposed to be a tangible thing, more powerful and far reaching than black holes or electrons. Yet this allegedly fundamental force of in the universe has less verifiable evidence than these “lesser” things. As an evidential argument, that is absurd.

            I don’t believe in multiverses for the same reason I don’t believe in God. Evidence first, then entities to explain it. Not the other way around.

  5. Dude, are you going to approve my comment or not?

  6. “God, as postulated by theists, is not an abstract principle which must be provisionally inferred, like the bases of an epistemology. God is supposed to be THE driving force in the universe. It is supposed to be a tangible thing, more powerful and far reaching than black holes or electrons.”

    If it’s outside the universe, how can it be “tangible”? This is why I put it in the metaphysical category in the first place.

    “Yet this allegedly fundamental force of in the universe has less verifiable evidence than these “lesser” things. As an evidential argument, that is absurd.”

    What would you count as evidence, then? What would you expect if a god existed? Do you want to see the Ten Commandments carved on the moon? Or do you expect a more general, but nevertheless contingent, piece of evidence like the universe itself, as every academic has thought?

    “I don’t believe in multiverses for the same reason I don’t believe in God.”

    OK. Then why do you believe in a cyclic universe even though the evidence is against such a hypothesis even more than the multiverse?

    “Evidence first, then entities to explain it. Not the other way around.”

    I understand. That’s why I’m not arguing that way. Instead, I’m asking you about what kind of evidence you’d expect for such an “ultimate cause”.

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