Posted: Dec 18, 2011 7:33 am
by jlowder
purplerat wrote:
andrewk wrote:I think the point jlowder is making is that there's rarely any point in debating definitions, but there is a way to get around a disagreement over a definition and into a meaningful discussion of the concepts of interest. One such way is to accept your opponent's definitions - insisting only that they must be made absolutely coherent and unambiguous, but not worrying about whether it is a definition you would personally give to the word in question. Then you state your position in terms of word meanings your opponent accepts. In this case, the atheist (as defined by the dictionary) says to the theist "I'm not an atheist [as you, the theist, understand the term], but I am an agnostic [as you, the theist, understand the term]". By so doing, communication is achieved, and further the burden of proof remains with the theist.

This is no different to learning a new language, or even a local dialect, and then using it rather than your own native dialect, to aid communication between yourself and a speaker of that dialect.

But how does arguing for a more appropriate or useful defenition of a term equate to apologetics? Or should we just accept it is apologetics because thats how jlowder defines apologetics and we should just accept that as if its a new language. If thats the case whats the point of ever debating or arguing anything because everybody can adjust the meaning of anything you or they say such that they or always right.

Hi purplerat -- Perhaps I am just being dense or even brain dead :what: , but I don't understand the first two sentences of your reply to andrewk. If you are suggesting that I think "arguing for a more appropriate or useful definition of a term equate to apologetics," then I want to make it clear that is NOT my view. In #8 of my list "How to be an Atheist Apologist," I did mention defining the approach some people take which is to define atheism as the lack of belief in God. But, for reasons I've stated earlier in this thread, I think that is a very USELESS thing to do, not a useful thing to do. Please see my post where I refer to "strategy" and "resource management."

Regarding your third sentence, I disagree that taking a pragmatic approach to definitions makes debate pointless. Granting, for the sake of discussion, that "atheism is the belief that God does not exist" does NOT equate to granting that the other person is always right. Think of a native English speaker and a native Spanish speaker, both of whom speak English and Spanish, debating what is the 'correct' way to greet someone ("hello" vs. "hola"). If the Spanish speaker agrees to speak English in a given conversation, does that mean the Spanish speaker is agreeing that "English" is always "correct." No! Nonsense! It just means the Spanish speaker is being pragmatic so the two people can communicate. In fact, if you think about it, if the word 'correct' means anything in this context at all, it is only in a relativistic sense. In other words, to borrow terminology from ethics and apply it to linguistics, I'm suggesting we should drop the pretense of 'linguistic objectivism' and instead be 'linguistic relativists': we should recognize that linguistics are relative to different cultures and different times.

Indeed, to press the analogy all the way, what you (and others who are so adamant about the atheism as the lack of belief definition) are doing is equivalent to going deep into Mexico to a city that is not a tourist town, and then being hellbent on the fact that the Mexican locals MUST speak English, despite the fact that you are, quite literally, on their turf. The point is that, everything else held equal, it seems odd, if not presumptuous, for a group representing a minority linguistic tradition or culture, to insist that the majority linguistic tradition or culture submit to the minority group's linguistic norms. (Here I am assuming that "atheism," regardless of how it is defined, is the minority position.)