7 Problems With "Lack-Theism" Atheism
In recent years, atheists have increasingly attempted to redefine the words "atheism" and "atheist". Now, rather than being the negative position on the question of God's existence, many atheists have redefined atheism to be a mere "lack of belief" in God. They do not seem to care that there was already a term for this position ("non-theism"). This is often done in an attempt to avoid the burden of proof that comes from taking the negative position on God's existence. Yet, in attempting to eliminate this burden of proof, the one who redefines atheism in this manner has jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Here are 7 reasons why this definition of atheism is problematic for those who use this definition:
1. It Is Rooted In The Etymological Fallacy
In order to justify this redefinition, many atheists will appeal to the etymology of the word "atheist." The term "atheist" comes from two Greek roots, "a-" meaning "no" and "-theos" meaning "God". Therefore, according to these atheists, the word means someone who has no belief in God. Some (though not all) will also make the argument that the prefix "a-" carries the connotation of "lacking something" from time to time, and thus hold that an "atheist" is one who "lacks [belief in] God". This claim is clearly false (we can run thought experiments on words such as "atypical" or "amoral" to see the flaws in this reasoning), yet that does not stop some from making this claim.
The bigger problem with this use of etymology to redefine "atheism" and "atheist," however, is that it commits what is called the etymological fallacy. The etymological fallacy is committed whenever a person appeals to the root words and ignores how the word has been used and evolved over time. In other words, it assumes that the root words that make up the word will ALWAYS determine the meaning of the word. Thus, the appeal to the root words of "atheism" by many modern non-theists is fallacious.
2. It Reduces Atheism To A Psychological State
On this redefinition of atheism, it becomes nothing more than a psychological state, not a position on a particular question. Many of the other issues with "lack-theism" atheism is stem from this problem, but the reduction of atheism to a psychological state is an issue in and of itself. First, if we understand atheism as a mere "lack of belief" in God, then animals, such as cats and dogs, are all atheists. Worse than that, if atheism is merely a "lack of belief" in God, then even inanimate objects, such as rocks, refrigerators, and chairs are atheists. I am pretty sure that atheists would take offense if theists began to proclaim that atheism is on the same level as the stuff rocks dream about, but in reality, this claim is implicit in the redefinition of atheism. That is, the non-theists who redefine atheism in this way have done this to themselves.
This can be avoided, I suppose, by positing that an atheist is a PERSON who lacks belief in God, but this redefinition does not fare much better, either. Several of the following points will make this clear.
3. It Does Not Make Any Positive Claims
At first, this may not seem like a problem. No claims, no burden of proof, right? The non-theist can simply assume his non-theism is true without evidence, right? Isn't this exactly the point that the non-theist is making by defining atheism in this way? Well, this redefinition comes with a price. A non-theist who redefines atheism in this way cannot make the claim that the statement, "God exists" is false, since such a claim is itself a positive claim. That is, on this redefinition, the claim that God exists still goes unchallenged. The non-theist cannot claim that God does not exist, since this is a positive claim that has a burden of proof. The non-theist also cannot claim that an argument for the existence of God is false, since the claim that "Argument or claim X is false" is itself a positive claim that carries a burden of proof. Literally any other claim made by the theist also goes unchallenged on this redefinition of atheism. Basically, the atheist has simply jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
4. It Has No Explanatory Power Or Scope
A person's lacking belief in the existence of God does absolutely nothing to explain certain aspects of reality, such as why anything exists at all, or why the universe is so finely-tuned for the existence of life. It does nothing to explain the incredible amount of information embedded within every living being on the face of the planet. This brand of "atheism" has absolutely no explanatory power. Indeed, any account that attempts to explain these things involves a positive claim with a burden of proof.
In addition to having no explanatory power, no purely negative view, such as this redefinition of atheism represents, can have an explanatory scope. This is simply due to the fact that it doesn't claim to explain anything. Thus, the non-theist cannot claim that his or her view has a larger explanatory scope or greater explanatory power than theism. Explanatory power and scope are non-existent on this view. It doesn't even claim to have any.
5. It Is Impossible For Atheism To Be True
On this redefinition, atheism is not a claim at all. Since this brand of "atheism" makes no claim, it is impossible for this brand of "atheism" to be true. I suppose it could be said that this brand of "atheism" doesn't claim to make truth claims, which is itself true. That doesn't change the fact that, on this redefinition, atheism cannot be true.
6. It Does Not Compel Non-Belief
If atheism is reduced to a psychological state, there is nothing about atheism that compels me to abandon belief in the existence of God. The fact that an individual has a certain psychological state does not compel me to adopt the same psychological state. We can utilize another psychological state to make this point. We realize that there are some people in this world who are psychopathic (and no, before anyone gets offended, I am not claiming that atheists are psychopaths). Some of these psychopaths believe that cannibalism is acceptable. Yet the mere fact that some people believe that cannibalism is good, or proper, or right, does not compel me to adopt the same view. The same can be said about "lack-theism" atheism. Since no psychological state is itself a good reason for others to adopt said psychological state, then "atheism," reduced to a psychological state, gives me no reason to adopt said psychological state. I have literally no compelling reason to adopt atheism.
7. Atheists Can No Longer Use Former Christians As "Trophies"
I have seen several atheist sites hold up former Christians who left the faith, almost as if it were an example of the strength of atheism (despite the fact that there are no good arguments for atheism, even in the traditional sense, but that is another issue for another day). Yet on this view, atheism is the view that individuals are born with. Newborn children, for all we know, don't even inquire about the existence of God. Thus, according to this redefinition of atheism, all babies are atheists. Yet the population of the world that adopts theism is far larger than the population of the world that adopts atheism. This means that, if this definition of atheism is accurate, far more people have left atheism to come to theism than have left theism to come to atheism. The fact that a relative handful of Christians then "return" to atheism is not impressive on this view. If these individuals who leave the faith to come to atheism is supposed to be a show of the strength of atheism, then the number of people who have left atheism to come to Christ is, by far, a GREATER show of the strength of Christianity. Atheism, on this view, is really nothing to brag about. This is, I am sure, not a point that many of these atheists have thought about, but it follows logically from this redefinition of atheism. Thus, we have no good reason to accept atheism as true, and we never will.