Posted: Dec 18, 2011 8:12 pm
by purplerat
jlowder wrote:
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.)

Useful was my word not yours. The definition that you claim is the "majority" definition for atheist is IMO useless since it essentially makes everybody an atheist. But like I said, either way I don't see how it's apologetics or why you included it in your list of apologetics. Then again I've still yet to find the sarcasm which you claimed was part of that list.

But the real problem with the redefining of atheist/atheism as you mentioned is not the redefinition of the word itself but rather the attempt to redefine the position of the person who says they are an atheist. Here's the hypothetical conversation you posited.

Moonwatcher: I'm an atheist.
Theist: Oh, so you believe that God does not exist. What's your evidence for the nonexistence of God?
Moonwatcher: No, I lack the belief that God exists. The lack of belief that God exists does not require any justification unless we first are given some reason to hold that belief.
Theist: No, you're re-defining words. Atheism is the belief God does not exist.

What I see here is Moonwatcher stating that he is an atheist and what his position on the existence of a god is. It's the theist he is making it an argument about the definition. Moonwatcher has made it clear what his position is so why does the theist go this route? The answer is almost always that the theist isn't interested in correcting a definition but rather that it's an attempt to pigeon hole the atheist into a position that they feel comfortable arguing against. What usually happens if Moonwatcher coincides to the theist's definition of atheist is that the theist will claim Moonwatcher is not an atheist and therefore he (the theist) wins the argument. Like I said it's pretty useless to take this tact because it really never does get away from being a debate over definitions. From your own example it was the theist who took the debate away from positions and made it about definitions, which to me is a red flag that the rest of the conversion is going to be pointless.

The funny thing is that you generally don't see the opposite happen where atheist try and argue that a theist definition of what they call their position is wrong. For the most part even if somebodies beliefs/position differ a bit from generally accepted definitions of what they call themselves it's not a big deal as long as they are clear on their position as Moonwatcher was in your example. As long as a theist definition of what theism is to them isn't completely far fetched and their meaning is clear I don't bother to debate it. To do so comes off as petty and an attempt to dodge the real debate.