Note to Atheists: Atheists Reject “Lack of Belief” Too

by Nate Sala

One of our more popular posts at A Clear Lens is entitled “Why Atheism Is Not a ‘Lack of Belief’” where I provide a rationale for why the relatively new definition of atheism as a “lack of belief” is flawed. This caused quite a bit of consternation among some atheists on social media with comments ranging from How dare you tell me what I believe? to How dare you disagree with my dictionary? Since there were quite a few responses in this regard I decided to write a follow-up entitled “’Atheism’ Is Like the New ‘Literally’” where I dealt with some of those more common rejoinders. In both posts my contention was clear: defining atheism as a “lack of belief” is mischaracterizing the atheistic enterprise (whether advertent or inadvertent).

An interesting fact that seems to be lost in this discussion is that this disagreement over the definition of atheism does not split evenly down the line – Christian vs. Atheist. Many atheists also reject the “lack of belief” characterization. One of the better examples of this comes from a post entitled “Is a ‘lack of belief’ the best we can do?” where the atheist author lists his own reasons (similar to the ones I provided) why his fellow atheists should reject this definition once and for all.

“[There] seems to be a confusion between the folk concept of ‘belief’, and it’s more precise philosophical definition. The folk concept is something like ‘an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially without proof‘. The philosophical definition is something like ‘a mental state that represents a state of affairs which is accepted as true by the believer’”

He’s absolutely right. In other words, the proper understanding of belief is that it is a thought about reality being a certain way. Given this proper understanding, the author writes:

“The only time someone can be said to have a lack of belief regarding a god is before they’ve heard the claim for one. In some minimalist sense this person is an a-theist, but that’s an extremely weak point to hang one’s hat on. After hearing it, they can accept, reject or mull over the claim undecided. But lacking a belief about it is no longer open to them.”

True. To assent to a particular proposition, which is what both sides are doing with regard to the God question, is to believe already. Even if someone is undecided (i.e. agnostic), he is still oscillating between belief in a reality where God exists or does not exist. The author also argues…
 

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Note to Atheists: Atheists Reject “Lack of Belief” Too – A Clear Lens