Posted on Jul 25, 2012 by Tom Gilson
Atheists often insist that atheism is the lack of belief in God or gods. (See here, for example.) Theists often dispute that. Here’s the problem: we’re equivocating on “atheism.” The word has at least three meanings:
1. The presence or lack of belief as a condition or state of a human being. A person who lacks belief in God or gods is in a state that can be described as atheism (or agnosticism, but many of them prefer the term atheism).
2. But there is another meaning for atheism, which is the associated set or sets of beliefs, principles, entailments, and etc.: the “ism” of atheism. Atheists seem to be saying there is no such thing, there is no “ism” to atheism. (Yet they study it anyway. And it certainly does seem to entail several definite beliefs.
3. There is also a social movement of atheism, represented for example in the recent Reason Rally, in atheists’ book sales, and in the atheistic presence on the Internet.
Christians ought to feel free to agree that the first sense of atheism is valid, but also to question the claim that there is no atheism in the second sense. The third sense of the term is indisputable.
Every person in this debate ought to be careful to clarify in which sense he or she is using the term.