define your terms

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Austin Cline writes about theists' efforts toward "Defining Atheism," noting that "when someone claims that a person is an atheist because they 'deny the existence of God,' we can start to see some of the errors and misunderstandings that statement involves:"

First, the term "God" hasn't been defined, so what the atheist thinks of it cannot be automatically assumed. The theist cannot simply assert that whatever they have in mind must also be something which the atheist has in mind. Second, it is not true that whatever this god turns out to be, the atheist must automatically deny it. This concept might turn out to be too incoherent to justify either belief or denial.

As a matter of fact, many exchanges between atheists and theists turn out to be frustrating and unsatisfactory because no one ever bothers to stop and explain what is meant by the key term "god." Until that happens, no serious, productive, or rational discussion can take place. Unless we know what the theist means by "god," we'll never have any chance to judge if anything said in defense of belief is adequate. Only when we know what the theist means by "god" will we be able to seriously critique their concepts.

Letting theists leave their primary concept undefined is a key tactic that I've rarely seen addressed; nearly as pernicious is their propensity to manufacture a definition of atheism that suits their interests (e.g., hating a non-existent deity, wanting to live an amoral life). We would do well to point out that theists are obligated to first define their god(s), and then to supply proof that supports his/her/its/their existence. Letting them off the hook with a simple statement such as "I believe in the God of Christianity" won't do, either; there is too much disagreement between the 38,000 Christian sects, not to mention the continuing effects of religion's doctrinal inventiveness.

Once they offer up some details, explaining our position becomes that much easier.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 17, 2009 10:35 PM.

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