Atheist Dictionary Missing the Point?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by PsychoticEpisode, Apr 20, 2010.

  1. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    Well, I never implied you did. (actually, I did. At least I intended to and thought you implied such)
    Yes, I am not sure where anyone is coming from when they think there is a clear meaning for the term. There are some meanings we can rule out.

    I think the OP would be silly even if the term had a clear meaning. Unless that meaning had nothing to do with theism and so 'theist words' - an interesting and hard to nail down category in itself - might seem out of place.
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  3. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    I have to agree with you here.
    Even if there were referable, lucid, acceptable definitions of the relevant terms, given the nature of the objects concerned, there's nothing definable that could eliminate the possibility of some people legitimately using 'aberrant' interpretations of those terms.
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  5. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    I meant this....
    It seems to me it would be very odd for an atheist dictionary not to have the word God in it. In fact the word allows an elegant way of clarifying the atheist position. begins...

    how could a self-respecting atheist dictionary not distinguish itself by defining the word 'slightly' differently.

    To give a pro-atheist analogy, this would be like a medical dictionary leaving out definitions of diseases.

    To give an anti-atheist analogy, this would be a like Rolling Stones dictionary, leaving out the Beatles....

    whoops lost my train of thought.
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  7. phlogistician Banned Banned



    Dictionaries record usage of a word. The usage is commonly wrong. I'm an atheist, I simply do not believe in any of the gods people have tried to sell to me.

    You know what the etymology of the word 'atheist' is, let's not fall into this stupid trap set by theists that atheists are in denial.

    Well, most people I know who are atheists hold that position exactly because of reasoning like that you posted.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The meaning of "deny" in "deny a motion" is distinctly different from the primary meaning. Sure, you can deny a request, a petition, an entreaty, a whine from your five-year-old, or a command from a cop, but that sense of "deny" is qualitatively different from denying the validity of an assertion.
    Yes, that is the way I use the words. What's the point in having both if they overlap to the point of vagueness anywhere but in a graduate philosophy seminar?
    • An atheist is a person who is certain (or certain beyond a reasonable doubt if he's a scientist) that there is no supernatural universe whose forces and creatures whimsically, often petulantly, and almost always illogically perturb the operation of the natural universe and make a mockery of the laws of physics, blatantly denying the fundamental premise of science: that the natural universe is a closed system (layman's definition) whose behavior can be predicted by theories derived logically from empirical evidence of its past and present behavior.
    • An agnostic is a person who isn't certain, perhaps by holding what he considers a reasonable doubt.
    I call that belief a "hunch." But as for the person, I do indeed call him irrational if he is reasonably well educated. It is unreasonable to believe in an extraordinary premise for which no extraordinary evidence has ever been discovered. Detectives have hunches based on evidence.
    Jung says no. Belief in the supernatural is an archetype, in modern terms an instinctive belief pre-programmed into our synapses by evolution. Either it was a survival trait in an era whose dangers we can't imagine, or it was a random mutation passed down through a genetic bottleneck.

    Even today I don't see any "pockets of godless societies" unless you count the people who find each other and form humanist associations. There are no physical atheist communities; we're too rare to actually do an Ayn Rand and build our own little village. People who called the USSR an atheist society ignore the fact that communism is an offshoot of Christianity. Marx's slogan, "To each according to his need, from each according to his ability," is a paraphrase of a quote from the Book of Acts. Can you imagine self-respecting Jews, Hindus or Confucians founding a movement based on the premise that what a man takes from civilization does not have to correlate with what he gives back? That's irrational and defies the laws of economics. The only way that society can survive is through divine intervention; the collapse of the USSR after decades of producing a "negative surplus" can be seen as evidence of the missing god.

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    My family is godless. I never heard of religion until I was about seven, and I assumed it was one of those funny stories that kids make up. We all seem to have a mutation that eliminated or overrode the instinct to believe in the supernatural. I'm sure there are others. But hardly enough to create a society.
    Excuse me, but by choice or by chance you're living in a community whose language is democratic. Words are not defined by an academy of scholars, as in Spain, or by the government, as in Germany. The meaning of an English word is exactly what the preponderance of speakers and writers use it to mean in their discourse. To say "the usage is commonly wrong" is an oxymoron when applied to English.
    So what? You're just waiting for one to come along that you like? You have no problem with the concept of an invisible, illogical supernatural universe, you just don't like the way it's been dressed up by various cultures? In that case you're an agnostic, waiting for an excuse to believe in something that's unreasonable.
    It's from Greek a-, "without," and theos, "god." It literally means "one who is without gods."
    I'm willing to stretch the definition of "disbelief" to include "a science-based refusal to believe something that is unreasonable."

    We believe in millions of things because not to do so would be unreasonable. In aggregate it's obvious that a few of them will be proven wrong. Even canonical scientific theories are occasionally overturned, or at least highly modified. But we have no way of knowing which belief will turn out to be wrong. That's no excuse for being unreasonable.

    An extraordinary assertion, completely lacking in evidence, which claims to falsify the fundamental premise of science, seems rather low on the list of beliefs likely to be overturned by future evidence.
  9. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Sure, if I come up to you and say "I have a petition that says..." you can dismiss it and pay it no heed.
    Likewise if you come up to someone and say "I have this claim (about God) that..." an atheist can deny it and pay it no heed.

    They do NOT overlap. Certainly one's epistemological position might lead to one's ontological position, but they do not overlap.
    As for where the words might be understood, ignorance is generally not an excuse for using words incorrectly, merely a reason it occurs.
    And given that this is the linguistics forum, should we not strive for accuracy in the words we use? Or are you happy to perpetuate such inaccuracies?

    Are deists to be considered atheists within your understanding, then?

    I find your understanding of agnosticism to be naive, but it does seem to be the root of your willingness to align agnosticism between your perceived poles of theism and atheism.
    But I will happily change my view here if/when the term agnosticism merely means "undecided" or some such.

    Irrespective of what you call it, he is an agnostic theist: he truly believes in his God; he also truly accepts that there is no evidence that he can attribute to his God rather than to natural causes, and he is fairly sure that none such evidence is possible to obtain.
    And I don't disagree that he is irrational, but the fact remains that he is agnostic as defined in any dictionary, and he is a theist.
    I am agnostic and an atheist.
    I would imagine that you are, too.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    To deny a petition, command, motion, etc., is to refuse to perform an act that someone has requested or ordered you to perform. To deny a claim is simply to state that you don't believe it. Those are two qualitatively different responses that happen to be expressed by the same word in English. I would not depend on that being the case in other languages.
    This is not the Philosophy board. I rarely read it because it gives me a headache. Any attempt to start a philosophical discussion on the Linguistics board will not be welcomed.

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    Like most Americans I have almost no idea what epistemology and ontology are, much less what the difference between them is. If you're going to start an argument over the shades of meaning of the verbs "to exist" and "to know" that only a fellow philosopher could follow, you're on the wrong board.
    You still don't get it. YOU don't get to decide what is the "correct" or "accurate" use of a word. The entire philosophy department of your university doesn't get to make that decision, except on their own headache-inspiring portmanteau words like "epistemology" and "ontology," which the rest of the citizenry will live our entire lives without using.

    The meaning of a word is established by a consensus of the people who use it. This is why "buffalo" now means the American bison and "snuck" and "dove" are in the dictionary as past tenses. The majority of Americans will tell you patiently that an atheist is a person who believes there is no God. However many of them are even familiar with the word "agnostic" will tell you that it's a person who's not sure about God's existence. Trying to talk to them about epistemology will not help. If you mention ontology they'll think you mean cancer research.
    Unlike "agnostic," which is sometimes used in vernacular discourse, "deist" is not. Feel free to use whatever meaning the philosophy department agrees on. The rest of us won't care.
    I suppose it's naive by your academic standards. But I'm not a philosopher. Outside the academy it has nothing to do with the search for ultimate knowledge, and is applied strictly to the question of God. I understand that its origin is Greek for "without knowledge," but "companion" is also Latin for "someone you share your bread with."
    I'm not making this up. I use the words that way because that's what I learned by living in an English-speaking country and not taking courses in philosophy.
    No, I'm no agnostic. The existence of gods has been one of the most important questions in Western culture (and perhaps others) for more than two thousand years. If there were any evidence for their existence someone would have found it by now. With Jungian psychology and the discovery of DNA we even have evidence explaining why belief in gods is so prevalent despite the lack of evidence for their existence.

    There is no supernatural universe. This is all there is. Make the most of it!

    Besides, even if you cop the Cosmic Watchmaker model, that God popped the Big Bang, created our Hubble Volume, and then settled into his Celestial Barcalounger with a tall cool one to watch it unfold, you have to accept the definition of "the universe" as "everything that exists." If God exists, he is part of the universe, so all you've done is expand the question to, "Okay, you've told us where our Hubble Volume came from, but now where did the God come from?"
  11. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


    I completely understand if you're not happy with my 'intrusive' comments to follow, but I simply could not resist on a few points:

    Sorry Sarkus, you are absolutely incorrect here.

    In fact, they must overlap: what one takes to be known [epistemology] necessarily includes the purported content of that knowledge [ontology].

    I appreciate this unwelcome.

    Absolutely correct. And that includes usage of such jargon terms as those of the Philosophy domain.
    Regardless, in any domain, language is never a determinant, it is only ever a descriptor.
  12. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    I do like the way you want to use words only one way when it suits you (as in the case of "deny") and then cry foul when people use meanings that you don't like the appeal of.

    There's a word for that which I'm sure we both have the same meaning of.

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    Amazingly, that's exactly why I use the term the way I do as well. Go figure. Except I live in England... although I admit it's probably not the best place to learn decent English.

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    Maybe I am too used to using words in a certain way, but for the life of me I can't see why we should dumb-down our use of language for the lowest common denominator. Language shouldn't have to be re-interpreted for different areas of one's life or depending on who one talks to. And it rather saddens me that we do.
    Hey ho.
  13. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    I stand corrected as pointed out - but I consider them to be still sufficiently different so as not to cause confusion.
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You're saying that "agnostic" is philosopher's jargon, and I'm saying that it's used enough by laymen to qualify as vernacular. It's probably somewhere in between. The dictionary agrees with you, but I've heard it used in casual conversation for years and that's where I learned my definition.
  15. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    Well... I don't want to risk Fraggle's ire in here.. but... you're right, they do each have definitely distinct connotation and denotation, but are also intimately related. More to the point here however, I think that those differences would hardly be noted, or relevant, to the general public.
  16. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    By whose standards?
  17. PsychoticEpisode It is very dry in here today Valued Senior Member

    Sheesh....all I was hoping to find was a dictionary that didn't have a single word with a connection to theism. The Atheist Dictionary couldn't do it since its authors blew it with the title. Got me to wondering if these particular atheists knew what they were doing or if such a dictionary exists. Sigh...
  18. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    It's possible some cranky communist group came out with a dictionary free of theist terms.
  19. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    It depends what you see as the purpose behind an "atheist" dictionary.
    Some feel that mainstream dictionaries come out of some form of religious agenda, small or large, and define words with a certain bias toward the religious.
    If the aim of an atheist dictionary is to define words but with a non-religious agenda then these dictionaries surely should retain words that theists use - such as God, religion, heaven etc, but define them in a non-religious way.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That one is obviously a joke!

    Generally, a specialty dictionary contains only the jargon of the specialists, including common words which have acquired jargon meanings. You're not going to find "kayak" or "subconscious" in a gemologist's dictionary.

    So an atheist's dictionary would be limited to the jargon of atheism. Anybody got any idea what that is?
  21. PsychoticEpisode It is very dry in here today Valued Senior Member

    English sans words with theist origins, roots, backgrounds, overtones, etc.

    For example, would the word holy exist? It might but with a few meanings missing.

    Word combos like Sunday School might just mean an educational institution open on the first day of the week. But I guess the days of the week would not be as they are today either, so the term might not exist.
  22. phlogistician Banned Banned

    I'm afraid not. I shall use a word derived from Latin, to demonstrate; Common usage of the word 'decimate' is that a population, or group of items, has largely been destroyed, implying almost nothing viable left. It's real menaing of course, if merely that 1 in 10 is destroyed, or in it's true usage, executed.

    People get this wrong all the time, but having the exact number in the word, means the common usage will always be wrong.

    You infer far too much. I'm an atheist. Simply, I do not believe in any of the gods people have yet described to me. That means no more than I have stated. I am not looking for further descriptions, nor entertaining them. I do no believe, because I have no reason to.

    No, I'm an atheist. As you know full well, Agnosticism is an epistemological position, and as invalid an argument, without proof, as theism. I am not making a satement about the validity of knowing, just about my lack of belief.

    Exactly, and not one hint of any active participation in that etymology is there? Being without something in no way implies it's been lost, or sought, or denied, or any other action.
  23. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    In it's original use it covered both those who simply did not believe and those who believed there was no God. So both you and FR would have been atheists.

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