Defining Atheism

by Robert Paul Vicars IV

I don't believe itAs an apologist, I think it is useful in discussions with atheists to have them cover what they believe and why they believe it.  The desire is to understand the true reasons for their beliefs and perhaps show them that they really cannot provide the same level of justification for their belief system that they require of the theist.  And that, perhaps, agnosticism would be a better stance.  Then the possibility for the existence of God is now a topic of discussion and the positive reasons for belief in God can be considered.

The atheist.org definition of atheism is the perfect place to start, “Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, which implies that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.”

Is atheism merely “lack of belief” or is it something more?  Agnostics “lack belief” because if they had belief they would no longer be agnostics. So the distinguishing characteristic between atheism and agnosticism must be something more than simply “lacking belief.” The main difference is why they lack belief.  The agnostic lacks belief because he cannot justify claiming that God does exist, but he also does not affirm that God does not exist.  However, atheism does affirm that “nothing exists but natural phenomena…there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature…”  It is this affirmative belief about the nature of reality that distinguishes atheism from agnosticism. And it is this belief that requires justification.

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