Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Sun Dec 20 15:13:22 UTC 2009

I don't think the definition is sloppy or careless. It may be unsatisfying
to those who have spent many hours debating fine intellectual distinctions,
but it reflects the general use of the word. In any field you will find
general definitions that are at odds with the jargon. This is just another
case of that.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "denies the existence of God." I
take it that you mean asserts as a fact that God does not exist, or "strong
atheism." This is in contrast to one who based on the lack of evidence has
concluded that God does not exist, or "weak atheism." In my experience,
"strong atheism" is really a straw man position. Vanishingly few people are
strong atheists because the position is as irrational and faith-based as the
theist position.

(Weak atheism differs from agnosticism in that the weak atheist has drawn a
conclusion from the (lack of) evidence, albeit like all empirical
conclusions a tentative one.)

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Herb Stahlke
Sent: Saturday, December 19, 2009 6:09 PM
Subject: atheist

There's been an ongoing discussion on another list as to the meaning
of "atheist," whether it denotes one who denies the existence of
deities or simply one who doesn't believe in such supernatural beings.
 I posted the OED entry for "atheist" and got the response

>Atheist \A"the*ist\, n. [Gr. ? without god; 'a priv. + ? god:
>     cf. F. ath['e]iste.]
>     1. One who disbelieves or denies the existence of a God, or
>        supreme intelligent Being.
>        [1913 Webster]
I believe this definition makes my point. The definition is sloppy and
careless because it conflates and equates two very different
intellectual positions: one who disbelieves in God is not the same thing
as one who denies the existence of God. I and every other atheist I know
of disbelieve in God but none of us denies the existence of God.

Among atheists, according to some on that lsit, there is the sense
that the term should be restriced to those who simply don't believe in
any deity and should not include those who deny the existence of such
a deity.  This is, of course, a definition preferred by many
secularists and does not reflect general usage, which is what they are
objecting to.

Has the entry for "atheist" been revised to note such a more
specialized usage?  I've gone through the revisions I could find on
the OED Online site and could find no reference to "atheist."


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