One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods."
Owen, thanks for your contribution to the Theism
vs. Atheism web. I enjoyed reading your candid, autobiographical anecdote. I
can relate to many of the experiences you've had as a non-believer. Needless
to say, you're not alone in your experience as a non-believer in a society
which is populated by a vast majority of individuals who have taken the
god-belief which was served to them in their childhood and never really
questioned its validity.
I wanted to offer some thoughts on the definition
of 'atheist' for your consideration. You may or may not agree with what I have
to say, but it may also be that you've not considered it from the same
perspective which I have on the matter as a consequence of several years of
investigating the matter.
I define "atheism" as "absence of
god-belief," and an "atheist" as "one who has no
god-belief." I take this definition from Anton Thorn, who wrote a short
essay about this definition. See the following:
The term 'atheism' does not mean "no
gods" or "hater of God" or "a person who has animosity
towards those who believe in God." Look at the word's root ('theos',
"god"), prefix ('a', "without," "non-," or
"absence of") and suffix ('ism', "belief"), and you'll see
what it's essential meaning really is: without god-belief.
While this definition includes those who
disbelieve in gods or deny the existence of gods (as you define it), it is not
restricted exclusively to these conditions. My definition of atheism would
also refer to an individual who grew up isolated from a religious society and
has never even heard of the notion of a god, let alone examined the merits for
or against belief in such a being.
Let's say for example a man named Bill was
shipwrecked as a small boy on a deserted island. Bill was not old enough
when he departed from civilization to have ever been indoctrinated
in any form of god-belief. Thus, he's had no exposure to god-belief, and he's
remained on this deserted island all by himself with no outside contact, no
outside influence. Somehow, by his own precocious wits, Bill learned to
survive in the rugged environment, and grew into adulthood all alone.
According to my definition, since Bill has no god-belief, he is an
atheist. He's never even heard of the notion of a god, let alone entertained
belief in one.
My definition of 'atheist' also applies to infants
and toddlers who haven't the vaguest understanding of a god. Since I hold that
human beings are born tabula rasa, I hold that human beings are necessarily
born without god-beliefs. In other words, they are born atheists. Now, no
doubt, many theists will not like this. But that is my view on things. In
other words, I think that atheism is the natural and normal
condition of man, that god-belief is abnormal. And I would also
say that my view on this makes the best sense with religions which seek
converts, for from what is it that converts are expected to convert?
Typically, when one speaks of conversion, they only think of the destination
of conversion: To what did he convert? some will ask. But there's
another side which is often neglected, and that is: From what did he
convert? Well, if you trace it back to one's earliest youth, ultimately, he
converted (if he converted at all) from a position of non-belief (i.e.,
atheism) to a position of belief (i.e., Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, etc.).
Thus, while the term "agnostic"
presupposes exposure to god-belief (since it is essentially a position of
uncertainty on the truth of god-belief), atheism as such may apply to those
who have been exposed to god-belief and do not accept it (for whatever
reason), as well as to those who have never been exposed to god-belief, and
thus cannot accept it, since they have had no exposure to god-belief in the