What does “atheist” mean?

It’s getting more and more difficult to discern the meaning of “atheist.”  Consider what Gnu activist PZ Myers mentioned in passing:

Like, umm, the word “atheist”? There is a straightforward dictionary definition of that word, of course, but one thing you quickly discover if you actually interact with a lot of atheists is that the meaning in practice varies a lot. I have met atheists who believe in reincarnation; atheists who think Chopra is on to something with his ‘universal consciousness’ claims;

So there are atheists who believe in reincarnation and there are atheists who think Chopra is on to something with his ‘universal consciousness’ claims.  Not all that surprising, as Gnu activist Sam Harris is one of them. And it’s clear that PZ accepts them as atheists.  One has to wonder just how many atheists believe in various supernatural beings/processes as long as they are not Christian.

So it is simply untrue that an atheist is someone who rejects the supernatural.  Or am I missing something?

 

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15 Responses to What does “atheist” mean?

  1. stcordova says:

    You may want to look at the comment section

    http://www.atheistrev.com/2010/05/atheists-who-believe-in-ghosts.html

    Not the banner of the website. 🙂

  2. Alan Fox says:

    Following you link to Myers’ blog, I see he writes:

    Does that make atheism meaningless? Of course not. I’ve been telling people for years that there is a diverse world of atheism out there, with different causes and different consequences. And I’ve been against this contrary and irrational effort to pretend they’re all the same.

    Seems to imply that the only necessarily common ground for atheists is lack of a belief in gods.

    So it is simply untrue that an atheist is someone who rejects the supernatural. Or am I missing something?

    If you define “atheist” as one who doesn’t believe in gods then of course it’s true. No true atheist thinks there are gods! 😉 Of course, no true atheist can claim to know that there are no gods. And if you accept self-definition, you are going to get a wider use of the term. So what? Would you like to control what people think or let them make their own judgements?

  3. The Deuce says:

    Of course, you’re “missing” something, but you’re not really missing it, because you know very well what it is. 🙂

    What goes by the name “atheism” in our culture is actually just seething hatred of Christianity pretending to be a coherent and reasoned philosophical position.

  4. Heuristics says:

    They keep getting the dictionary definition wrong (even the commenter above me does). When people use the word atheism they mean:

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheism?s=t

    1.the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
    2.disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

    —–

    That is, a denial, not a lack of belief. This whole lack of belief thing only came about because Alvin Plantinga solved the problem of evil which caused Antony Flew to no longer have any arguments for his atheism so he tried to change what the term meant so he could remain intellectually honest and warranted. The population doesn’t know of any of this though and it is their usage of words that determine what they mean.

  5. Alan Fox says:

    …hatred of Christianity…

    You don’t think atheists “hate” Islam, too? I suspect they “hate” Buddhism, too, but only a little bit. I heard some atheists were a little dismissive of the ideas of Judaism!

    Remember, atheists are a disparate polyglot disorganised group so you would need to check with each atheist individually but I personally have no issue with those of a religious persuasion so long as they accept and respect the rights of everyone to free thought and expression.

  6. Alan Fox says:

    …it is their usage of words that determine what they mean.

    Just as well really or communication gets a little difficult!

  7. The Deuce says:

    You don’t think atheists “hate” Islam, too?

    Nope. The majority of them are politically correct in the extreme and see Muslims as victims of Christianity, and generally try to downplay the violence associated with that religion as much as possible in comparison to Christianity.

  8. Alan Fox says:

    The majority of [atheists] are politically correct in the extreme and see Muslims as victims of Christianity, and generally try to downplay the violence associated with that religion as much as possible in comparison to Christianity.

    How did you establish that the majority of atheists downplay the faults of Islam? Hitchens was pretty hard on Islam in ‘God is not Great’ and I did not notice much protest or disagreement from other atheists. Come to that, how did you or Mike establish that atheists “have a seething hatred” of Christianity?

  9. Alan Fox says:

    I see Richard Dawkins has said “I’m reasonably optimistic in America and Europe. I’m pessimistic about the Islamic world. I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world, and I fear that we have a very difficult struggle there.”

    Didn’t seem to generate much politically correct condemnation from other atheist.

  10. Michael says:

    Seems to imply that the only necessarily common ground for atheists is lack of a belief in gods.

    Agnostics lack a belief in gods, but agnostics are not atheists.

    If you define “atheist” as one who doesn’t believe in gods then of course it’s true. No true atheist thinks there are gods!

    Yet true atheists can believe in reincarnation, mysticism, and a universal consciousness. How interesting.

    Come to that, how did you or Mike establish that atheists “have a seething hatred” of Christianity?

    I never said atheists have a seething hatred of Christianity. And Deuce said “What goes by the name “atheism” in our culture.”

  11. Alan Fox says:

    Agnostics lack a belief in gods, but agnostics are not atheists.>/blockquote>

    Well, self definition rules but I suggest all true atheists are also agnostics if they are honest. Even Dawkins doesn’t claim certainty.

    Yet true atheists can believe in reincarnation, mysticism, and a universal consciousness. How interesting.

    Self-describing atheists can but no true atheist… 😉

    I never said atheists have a seething hatred of Christianity. And Deuce said “What goes by the name “atheism” in our culture.”

    I stand corrected though I do recall you remarking that “Dawkins hates creationists” somewhere. I read what Deuce wrote as implying that atheists are really just Christian haters under the skin. Can “what goes by the name etc” have emotions?

  12. Health Editor says:

    Antony Flew to no longer have any arguments for his atheism

    I’ve heard em all now, not sure which is correct. Dawkins claimed he converted because of Behe, others claim Schroeder. In a few hundred years people will claim he saw god herself.

  13. thesauros says:

    The most precious part of atheists is this. They start with, “I don’t believe anything unless it’s proven by the scientific method of knowing.” But when science based knowledge strikes at the very heart of their world-view?

    “Well, it’s just science. Science is quite capable of being wrong.”

    That’s why they spend years coming up with an acceptable definition of the term, “atheist.” With just the right wording an atheist can say, “You see, if I’m simply a “non believer in God” as opposed to “believing God doesn’t exist,” then I don’t need evidence to uphold my “non belief.””

    These word games are consistently played in atheist-world to maintain equilibrium in an unbalanced, absurd and incoherent belief system.

  14. Heuristics says:

    Health: This is not something that happened during his change of mind regarding theism, this was during the 70’ies when he was philosophically active and Plantingas free will defence was presented.

  15. Michael says:

    Salvador’s first comment was lost in the spam filter. You might want to check it out:

    You may want to look at the comment section

    http://www.atheistrev.com/2010/05/atheists-who-believe-in-ghosts.html

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