In fact, ‘atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist’. We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
Atheism is not a set of beliefs, worldview or doctrine. It is the absence of one. The etymology of word is the same as the root for “asexual” and “amoral”. Asexual, of course, means without sex– neither male nor female; indeed, there are organisms that can reproduce asexually. Amoral is something which cannot be explained in moral terms. An Apple is amoral, so is a lug wrench. Science is actually amoral, although what we do with it can have significant moral ramifications.
Atheism is the absence of theistic beliefs. Now not every dictionary looks at it this way, and I’ve seen a number of dictionaries with varying definitions, including Merriam-Webster’s, which includes the following “b: the doctrine that there is no deity”.
Theists like to whack atheists over the head with this and say – “see this is how it is in the dictionary. Are you going to say that the dictionary is wrong?” But what atheists believe, or at the very least what I believe, is not defined by dictionary. You can call it whatever you like. That a dictionary calls it a doctrine does not make it so, and indeed other dictionaries (and the “a” definition in Webster’s) don’t use that word– but theists like to pick their own definition of atheism.
My reply is to pick my own definition of faith. Webster’s listing is “b: firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. And this tends to draw immediate fire, since many theists would call that – not faith – but “blind faith”, a distinction that is important to many theists.
I don’t mind granting them that distinction, but if they get to define the terms by which I operate, I get to define their terms. Pointing that out does have a tendency to make these discussions a bit more reasonable, more about beliefs, and less about the dictionary.
An atheist is a person absent of theistic beliefs.
Atheists attempt to use rational thought and evidence for their decision-making processes. Again, this is sometimes described as belief – you believe in the power of rational thought. However they don’t believe in the power of rational thought, they have evidence for the power of rational thought.
Think of it: you don’t have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that your car will start. Yes, it is possible that these things will not happen, but your “belief” that they will is rational – it is evidence based. Your car has always started, the sun has always come up.
People often tell me that I have faith in my wife. No, I have no faith in her whatsoever. Imagine what that would look like – if I had come up to her on the day I met and said “we’ve never met, but I have faith that you are the right woman for me!” No, she had to earn my trust. I have years of evidence to support the kind of woman she is. No, I have no faith in her whatsoever.