Defining Atheism

by R.W. Johnson

Definitions are a tricky thing, especially in the arena of debate and dialogue. Definitions, though, are a key place to start in understanding where the other side is coming from. I’m sure many Christians and atheists alike would agree that it is always good to understand where the other person is coming from so you can accurately and fairly engage with their thoughts and opinions meaningfully. But what do you do when a definition is changed? What do you do when someone adheres to a definition that is used as sort of a cop out tactic? That is precisely what I see many atheists doing today when they discuss their definition of atheism. So today, I am going to go over the definition of atheism and what comes along with holding to such a position.

It has been said many times and in many different ways “Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods”. And, to go a bit further, some atheists will use this as a retreat position when challenged on why they don’t think God exists. Many will say “Well I just don’t find the evidence for God convincing enough.” Well, if you don’t think there is evidence for God and if you have no evidence to support the claim that God does not exist, that leaves you with agnosticism, not atheism. Atheism, properly understood is a claim. It is the claim that there is no God. And like the Christian, who claims there is a God, the position needs to have some evidence for substantiation. If one doesn’t think there is enough evidence either way or if they don’t think there can be enough evidence either way, then they would be in the agnostic camp, of which, there are certainly many different stripes.

So why do I render atheism contrary to how many atheists define their position? Is it because I want to shift the burden of proof? Not at all…


Defining Atheism – Apologetics 105