Recently the issue of defining atheism came up in the blog. In response, I thought I’d repost a January 2010 article I wrote at Christian Post on the topic.
The line between atheist and agnostic used to be clear. Atheists believed that no God or gods existed. Agnostics didn’t have any belief as to whether God or gods existed. But today people have taken to calling themselves atheists simply because, as it is commonly said, they “lack belief in gods”. In other words, agnostics now call themselves atheists.
I offer three reasons why they should refrain from this confusing practice.
Reason 1: By this logic my Maltese/Shih Tzu (AKA Maltzu) is now an atheist
Maggie, our puppy, lacks belief in God. (So does our 6 year old Lhasa apso Sonny, but that’s another illustration for another day.) If lack of belief in gods is sufficient to be an atheist then Maggie is an atheist. Some “atheists” may think it is a bonus to get the animal kingdom on their side. But this strikes me as just plain silly.
Reason 2: By this logic anarchism is the default governance affiliation
Anarchy has traditionally been defined as the theory that governance ought to proceed without the authority of the state, directly by the people. Most of us are not anarchists in that traditional sense. Instead, we prefer constitutional monarchies, or constitutional republics, or perhaps one or another form of democracy.
But what if we currently lack any clear convictions about which of these is the preferred mode of governance? Then, by parity of reasoning we should follow the new atheist’s redefinition. By lacking any convictions we are “anarchists” in this broadened sense.
But this too is silly.
Reason 3: By this logic agnostics are also theists
Finally, the reasoning goes that lack of belief in God is sufficient to make one an atheist. Again by parity of reasoning it would follow that lack of belief in the non-existence of God would be sufficient to make one a theist. So if we accept this redefinition then it follows that agnostics are simultaneously atheists and theists.
Will this foolishness never end?