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Is there an ‘Official Definition’ of atheism?

Atheism is polysemous, so anyone telling you they have the ONLY definition of atheism or those other definitions of atheism are WRONG is completely off the mark. With how language works, any definition of atheism, or any word for that matter, is perfectly valid. There are terms that are contextually correct, and there are more useful ways to define terms. There are some definitions that allow us to accurately infer ontological positions, and there are others that are so vague or ambiguous they become useless.

There is no ‘official definition’ of atheism. In recent years the lack of belief definition has been popularised by political parties in America and this has spilled out into the internet and is very commonly used in those circles. In most places outside of these online communities, especially in philosophy of religion, the most commonly used definition of atheism is the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods) – SEP.

In fact, if you go through a lot of philosophical writings on the matter from atheists, be they contemporary or from the past, they are usually using this definition of atheism. Whilst it is not the only definition of atheism, even in philosophy, it is the most concise use with it being the opposite proposition to theism. If p = theism = ‘god exists’ and a = not, not = negation then ¬p = negation of theism = atheism = ‘god does not exist’. I explain a bit more about this in Normatively Atheist and So what is this ‘Normative’ thing all about anyway?.

Even though it is the most commonly used and generally considered the normative definition of atheism in philosophy (or at least, analytic philosophy of religion) it’s still not really regarded as ‘THE official definition’, even though if there was one, it would probably be that.

What we do have is a number of ideological places like ‘American Atheists’, the ‘ACA’ and ‘Canadian Atheists’ searching for memberships and political power so it benefits them to have the broadest definition of atheism as possible, and they will make poor, fallacious, and erroneous arguments to support their position that ‘lack of belief in gods’ is the ‘only’ definition, or that ‘other definitions are wrong’. They are perfectly valid definitions folks are free to use, but are not the ‘only’ definitions, and others are not ‘wrong’.

We have seen this demonstrated by Aron Ra where he wrote an article about atheism and was caught out a number of times quote mining, twisting facts and history, and I wrote an article In response to Ra’s ‘What is Atheism?’ about it.

This, of course, earned a block from Ra, rather than addressing the places where things were contested he arrogantly carried on pretending he was right and everyone else is wrong. This was a shame, as I have a lot of respect for the work he had done on science and creationism, but he showed he wasn’t too interested in finding the truth of this matter.

This dishonesty was also demonstrated by Randolf when he presented his site to me with the official definition of atheism. I had seen the site before and realised how awful it was, and then seeing it on the Canadian Atheists listing it as the resource for the ‘official definition of atheism’. It transpired he was the president of the Canadian Atheists, and the ‘official definition of atheism’ was also his site.

In the discussion with him, I pointed out his use of ‘logic’ on the site wasn’t actually logic, that some of his references didn’t back him up and that even his reference to Oxford English Dictionary wasn’t actually the ‘OED’ and was ‘Oxford Dictionaries’ which is different. All the conversation got me was a block, and as you can see in this little clip which was a few weeks after the conversation, he did not update his site.

We can also see that he is wrong about the use of atheos:

You can read more about this in Rockin’ Atheism Part 3: Atheism in Greek Antiquity and the various definitions of atheism in: Rockin’ Atheism Pt 2: Defining Atheism.

If that wasn’t enough for you to conclude that this character is, at the very least, dishonest and probably not to be trusted on history, here is another clip where he says there were Christians in 500 BC.

Anyway, I don’t care which definition of atheism you use in general, I just get frustrated with the prescriptivism and dishonesty from the proponents of the lacktheist definition. That’s why we address things like this in the full stream (below) and other articles and videos we do.

Ultimately, the label someone uses isn’t that important, what they do and don’t believe about a proposition is. The concise definitions of atheism and agnosticism allow us to accurately infer what folks do/don’t believe which is why they are useful. Equally many on the internet use this colloquial lack of belief definition of atheism and therefore there is utility to using that one too.

If you’re genuinely in all the ways atheism has been used from the etymological root, through the French and into the English language, check: Etymology vs Use/Definition: Atheism

Full Stream

We will be discussing the ‘official’ definition of atheism as per the Canadian Atheist Club We will be covering off issues with their site and bias and interactions with Randolph.

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