Talk:atheist

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Rolling back a POV edit[edit]

Rolled back edit of 68.55.75.208, as it seems to be a POV edit. (If not, please defend here before repeating edit.) This is a definition of how the word is used, not an decree that that use is or is not based on truth. --Connel MacKenzie 06:01, 23 Feb 2005 (UTC)

3rd definition[edit]

WTF is the deal with the 3rd definition of atheist? I don't see that as a distinct definition that identifies a particular kind of atheist. Plenty of atheists who fall into one of the first two categories will fall into the third. Furthermore there are "believers" who think that organized religion and other people's ideas of god are fictional might easily fit category 3, but would not self identify with atheism.

Ok, worse yet, definition 2 is a small subset of the first definition. If you don't have a belief in a deity, then that is a consequence of also having a belief of no deity. I will offer as reference the following video, which explains things clearly:

 spam stricken

I endorse and accept his definition (or the spirit of it) and therefore propose the following:

Atheism:

   A person who does not have a belief that one or more deities or gods exist.

That's it. You can make some kind of footnote about "strong atheist" if you like, however the above definition is *inclusive* of the "strong atheist" definition, and therefore is not appropriately labelled as "weak atheist". Its just atheism. I don't think there is such a thing as a weak atheist, except possibly as an atheist who is not a strong atheist. The third definition is utter nonsense; just get rid of it.

If nobody does anything about this, I will change the definition myself.

Qed 10:25, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

Nevermind, I just went ahead and decided to "be bold" like they taught me over in Wikipedia. Qed 10:33, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

Suitability of "weak" atheist definitions[edit]

There is no dictionary definition that supports the "weak" Atheist or Atheism definitions. In fact, the references, under Atheism, contradict the definition someone wrote, here, in Wiktionary.

The root word is Atheos (No God, or Without God). The -ist suffix (Believer In, or One Who Believes In) and -ism suffix (Belief In, or Belief System) are then attached to that word. An Atheist is A Believer In No God, or One Who Believes In No God. Atheism is the Belief In No God, or A Belief System Without God.

The "weak" definition wrongly adds the prefix A- to the word Theist, or Theism, instead. "Weak" Atheist are likely Agnostics, or Non-Theists.

--3DJay 19:21, 29 January 2007 (UTC)

I changed the article from the passive lack of belief "A person who does not believe that deities exist" to the active denial of existence "A person who believes that deities do not exist".
Based on the etymology listed by 3DJay and the related Wikipedia article, it appears that an denial of existence is the correct definition. This usage is also supported by the Oxford English & Merriam-Webster dictionaries.
If you have evidence support a wide acceptance of Atheist meaning a lack of belief, then add it in as a secondary definition. Don't replace the definition - it appears clear that at this time the primary should be denial of existence, not lack of belief -- expat editor 10:20, 04 Sep 2007 (JST)

Dmol, Rodasmith added a quote showing your addition is appropriate, but why should we remove what appears to be the commonly accepted definition and usage? Key policy #4 (Avoid bias. Entries should be written from a neutral point of view, representing all usages fairly and sympathetically.) seems to indicate that the common usage should be included. -- expat editor 18:45, 07 Sep 2007 (JST)

Webster's provides this definition: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.. This is the definition which I am more familiar with. To be more precise, one can deny or disbelieve the existence of *A* supreme being (such as Zeus) while believing in the existence of another supreme being (such as the Christian God) in order to qualify, literally, as an atheist. 75.199.110.145 14:46, 24 December 2007 (UTC)
Merriam-Webster no longer uses that biased definition. I think this video sums it up nicely, e.g. the general bias that so common with many old dictionaries or non-neutral onces (Note that I'm not the creator of that video nor in any way involved with it). --130.208.247.2 12:46, 2 June 2009 (UTC)

Suitability of a sense of irregilious person[edit]

I added a third definition of how I often hear atheism used. I was removed, so I'm adding it back with the following justification: "A person who lacks any religious belief, though not necessarily lacking superstition; an irreligious person" This is how I often hear the word used. It refers to the demographic of non-religious people in the West. This is a less formal definition than the other two definitions. --King Mir

Who removed it, and why? Mglovesfun (talk) 23:35, 10 July 2010 (UTC)
Answer, we already have it. Mglovesfun (talk) 23:55, 10 July 2010 (UTC)
I just removed the third definition before I realised it was being disussed here at the moment. However, I can't see any reason to keep it, as it was identical to the first definition.--Dmol 23:59, 10 July 2010 (UTC)
It is totally different. Being irreligious is not the same thing as not believing in God. A Buddhist is atheist by the first definition, but not the third. Putting it back in. At the very least, better to be redundant than incomplete --King Mir
That's the second definition, not the first one. Mglovesfun (talk) 01:03, 13 July 2010 (UTC)
Under Both definitions, Buddhists would be considered atheists. The way I often hear the word used, Buddhists would not be considered so. For instance a sentence like: "atheists argue that religious texts are not a good source of truth". That's a true statement, but it's only referring to irreligious atheists.--King Mir
Hmm this is true. It's more a question of how 1 & 2 are different. Mglovesfun (talk) 01:13, 13 July 2010 (UTC)
For that, see the Usage Notes.--King Mir 01:19, 13 July 2010 (UTC)

Adjective[edit]

Isn't this also an adjective? Mglovesfun (talk) 10:22, 8 July 2009 (UTC)

lacks / free of[edit]

What is worded now as "lacks belief in the existence of any god" could also be written as "is free of religious faiths". In my opinion, both push a point of view:

  • to not have a certain belief, doesn't necessarily mean one misses it; one doesn't lack belief in the gods one hasn't heard of.
  • the belief in god(s) isn't necessarily a burden; one isn't free of friends.

In my opinion (but English is only my fourth language), "doesn't believe in any god" or "doesn't believe in a god" is a more neutral description ("believe" isn't a neutral word, but "atheist" isn't neutral either). --Erik Warmelink 19:59, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

RFC result[edit]

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atheist

First two definitions:

  1. A person without a belief in, or one who lacks belief in the existence of a god or gods.
  2. A person who believes that no gods or deities exist.

They seem to the same, perhaps nuances of one, better written definition. The usage notes below don't seem valid either. Mglovesfun (talk) 01:17, 13 July 2010 (UTC)

I feel the same. Not sure these nuances are important. You asked if it's an adjective on the talk page, yes, I think it is. --Anatoli 01:42, 13 July 2010 (UTC)
The nuances are important, because when atheists use the definition, they usually mean the first, and when theists use the word, they usually mean the second. And many would go to a dictionary to clear up the discrepancy. So it is necessary to mention both definitions, and the difference between them. Having two definition is a simple and clear way to do this, but perhaps a well worded single definition can communicate this distinction clearly enough. Maybe subdefintions? --King Mir 00:11, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
If users find we don't support the distinction, they might go to one of the dictionaries that do have exactly the distinction made (MWOnline, AHD, and RHU), though not the learners' dictionaries. DCDuring TALK 00:33, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
One definition would do - it's the attitude to atheists, rather than the actual difference in senses. Not believing that a god exists (but others do exist?) doesn't make one an atheist, not if you believe that any god exists. The first definition is somewhat ambiguous. The 2nd shorter definition seems the correct and the only one needed. --Anatoli 00:29, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
That's actually a case for rewording the first definition. The key difference is between non-belief and belief in a negative, not between what is not believed. Perhaps "of a god or gods" should be changed to "of any God or gods", or something similar. --King Mir 05:30, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
These are very different, and while rewording may (or may not) be a good idea, merging is definitely not. An atheist under the former definition is one who is not taking a position on the existence of G-d (or god or gods or whatnot). An atheist under the latter definition is one who has taken a position. (See w:Negative and positive atheism.) The first group has almost as much in common with "believers" as it does with the second group. —RuakhTALK 00:54, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
I see, it's a bit complicated but 1) IMHO, the translations are the same for weak/strong atheists, with or without positions, 2) explaining the differences in concepts could be referred to Wikipedia, possibly with more than one link. A dictionary definition: "Someone who denies the existence of god" is sufficient for most cases, is well understood, the details should be outside the dictionary to make its search and usage simpler. --Anatoli 01:06, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
In Russian "атеист" (borrowed word), "безбожник" (lit.: a godless person), "неверующий" (non-believer) are used slightly differently but all fit atheist. An expanded version could be "Someone who denies the existence of god, doesn't believe in god or has no religious faith". We could add a usage note from Wikipedia: Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists. --Anatoli 01:14, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
I don't know Russian, but in English these senses are distinct, in that they have distinct synonyms: the first sense is roughly synonymous with (or at least hyperonymous to) agnostic, while the latter is not. If necessary, we can have a usage note explaining that some speakers don't really draw this distinction, but we definitely shouldn't merge the senses. —RuakhTALK 02:47, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
If you are have a very strong opinion about this difference, then perhaps you're right. To me an atheist is an atheist - weak or strong or someone who just doesn't care about gods. Not sure what the best way to resolve this is. --Anatoli 05:22, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
I agree with Ruakh, "atheist" meaning "someone who does not believe in a god or gods" and "atheist" meaning "someone who believes there is not a god or gods" are distinct senses, the latter having a belief the former not. Someone who doesn't care whether there is a god or gods is usually termed an agnostic (although this can also mean people who do care but just don't' believe either way), but the first defintion of "atheist" also covers them. The second definition of "atheist" covers people who do care about the (non)-existence of a god or god - sometimes militantly so. Thryduulf (talk) 10:26, 16 July 2010 (UTC)
I should clarify an error in my above comments: I wrote them as though sense 1 denoted a negative atheist (one without a position on the existence of G-d or gods) and sense 2 denoted a positive atheist (one who believe in the non-existence of G-d or gods); but in fact, sense 1 denotes a member of either group (one who doesn't believe in the existence of G-d or gods, either because (s)he believes the reverse, or because (s)he does not believe one way or the other), and sense 2 denotes a positive atheist. This is as it should be: atheist is sometimes used to include both (hence the more specific positive atheist and negative atheist), and sometimes to include only the latter (the former then being designated agnostic), but I don't think it's ever used to include only the former. In this light, the comments in favor of merging the senses are basically taking the position that they only use sense 1 (apparently because they don't draw the distinction between a negative and a positive atheist, so can't understand the motivation for using atheist to describe only the latter), so sense 2 is unnecessary. The best solution, then, is to add citations that demonstrate the distinctness of sense 2. I'll do so shortly. —RuakhTALK 01:38, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
I've now added three such citations. Please take them into account in any rewrite you might undertake. —RuakhTALK 02:25, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
May I make a suggestion? How about "A person that rejects the belief in the existence of one or more gods." —This comment was unsigned.
No. That would make Christians atheists because they reject Kali. Equinox 08:16, 22 July 2010 (UTC)


Anti-Theism[edit]

I was thinking of removing the meaning "belief that no god exists" because, really, it's a biased etymology. It would make more sense as the meaning for anti-theism. GabSte1989 16:24, 28 February 2011 (UTC)

Not only are the quotations insulting they're also disingenuous - they're just a handful of writers giving their personal opinions. At the very least it should be flagged as "dated". If "theist" means "one who believes in the existence of a god" or "one who believes in a personal god" then "atheist" should simply mean "one who does NOT believe". GabSte1989 16:40, 28 February 2011 (UTC)

No, it's not a question of if you like the definition, but if people actually use it that way. Same applies for the citations; whether you like them or not, they are citations of the word atheist in use, and thus shouldn't be removed. Mglovesfun (talk) 16:46, 28 February 2011 (UTC)
Then I think people use it incorrectly, should we not try and clear this up a little. I apologize for the "insulting" bit, it was out of place. GabSte1989 16:54, 28 February 2011 (UTC)
I disagree, how is your opinion on how people use the word relevant here? BTW I also disagree that the 'insulting' bit was out of place, you are entitled to an opinion. Words like 'insulting' are always subjective - something can only be insulting to someone, not just in general 'insulting' as there will always be people who are not insulted by it. Mglovesfun (talk) 17:12, 28 February 2011 (UTC)
It's not. I'm used to more social forums. GabSte1989 17:21, 28 February 2011 (UTC)

RFD result[edit]

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atheist (Redundant sense.)

Listing recently added sense, (re-added after being removed once) that seems identical to others. Sense given is - A person who lacks any religious belief, though not necessarily lacking superstition; an irreligious person -
which to me is identical to-
A person without a belief in, or one who lacks belief in the existence of a god or gods.
There's no difference. Being superstition does not make you believe in God.--Dmol 00:40, 15 July 2010 (UTC)

See the talk page. A Buddhist is an atheist by the other definitions, but not by this one. --King Mir 05:09, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
Very strong keep, since religions can be atheist, per above. Mglovesfun (talk) 09:48, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
Keep. Atheist primarily means no belief in gods. This does not have any implication for any other belief in principle. Therefore, anytime it DOES imply further beliefs, it is clearly a secondary sense worth listing. —CodeCat 09:53, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
I think this is the most common use, almost always pejorative. This sense does not have any nuanced concern with the specifics of a person's belief or lack thereof. DCDuring TALK 17:08, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
How is it pejorative exactly? I don't think any atheist resents being called an atheist? —CodeCat 20:58, 16 July 2010 (UTC)
I didn't say it was an insult. It is used as a pejorative label by others. I don't think I would necessarily give it the pejorative context label because, as you point out, it is not inherently pejorative. But I think much usage in US public discourse is pejorative. I think surveys in the US say that voters would rather have a gay president than an atheistic one. DCDuring TALK 22:21, 16 July 2010 (UTC)

Cleaned up. So, which one of these applies to a Buddhist atheist? DAVilla 04:48, 25 July 2010 (UTC)

Tagged was removed months ago. Kept, would be insanity to do anything else. Mglovesfun (talk) 17:01, 20 February 2011 (UTC)

Use of "lack"[edit]

"Lack" is from the point of view of those with religion and so a POV edit. "does not have" is without influence of the person making the statement and so is not a point of view POV. If anyone can offer a logical argument against this then changing from this definition is by cause of reason, if it is done without a counter argument then it can only be defined as a POV edit.David H Doyle 14:27, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Your edit looks like an improvement to me (diff): "does not have" sounds more neutral than "lacks". But I am a non-native. --Dan Polansky 14:53, 18 April 2011 (UTC)
I agree. "Lack" can be neutral, but it typically carries some implications that aren't desirable here. —RuakhTALK 00:18, 20 April 2011 (UTC)
I agree. Lack implies that something is missing that should be there.--Dmol 10:41, 20 April 2011 (UTC)

long RFV discussion[edit]

A long RFV discussion of this word and atheism is on Talk:atheism. - -sche (discuss) 02:00, 1 March 2012 (UTC)

Definition Number 2[edit]

2. (broadly) A person who does not believe that any deities exist, but who does not necessarily believe that no deities exist.
Is this not the definition of an agnostic? 90.198.9.122 21:26, 16 April 2012 (UTC)

Agreed. JamesjiaoTC 21:33, 16 April 2012 (UTC)
It does read that way, doesn't it? I've modified it now. —RuakhTALK 21:43, 16 April 2012 (UTC)
Not exactly; an agnostic is one who does not know whether any deities exist, whether or not they believe in them. Fideists like Martin Gardner would be agnostic believers. ~ Robin (talk) 22:43, 16 April 2012 (UTC)
I think you're cheating a bit. In common usage, "agnostics" certainly does refer to "negative atheists" (those who do not have a belief one way or the other). —RuakhTALK 23:48, 16 April 2012 (UTC)

Four definitions?[edit]

What a confusing mess... Equinox 09:22, 29 June 2013 (UTC)

To avoid confusion, you can use more specific terms to signify which you mean; frex, sense 1 atheists are sometimes called strong atheists or hard atheists, and a sense 2 atheist would be an explicit atheist. ~ Röbin Liönheart (talk) 09:50, 29 June 2013 (UTC)
You (and Widsith in the above discussions) see confusion, I (and Robin and others in the above threads) see precision. Widsith correctly observed that many authors use the term vaguely... but vague use can be covered by a precise entry. And (as others observed, and as the citations show) many authors do use the term with one or another of several specific senses: an entry that had only one vague sense ("a person who, uh, doesn't believe in stuff") wouldn't cover those uses. In the end, there may be no way to make both of us happy... except, perhaps, by using subsenses? If we made the first two or three senses subsenses of a vague "person who does not believe gods exist, or who believes no gods exist" sense, would that clear things up, or make them worse? (Compare gender-free.) - -sche (discuss) 20:19, 29 June 2013 (UTC)

2011 Tea room discussion[edit]

On the number of senses, see also Special:PermanentLink/24549098#atheist, which has over 7800 words. For citations collected during that dicussion, see Citations:atheist. --Dan Polansky (talk) 14:07, 30 June 2013 (UTC)

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Having just made some changes to atheism, including merging definitions together, I went to check out atheist too. The talk page is an interesting read: one RFC and one RFD debate have looked at the wisdom of merging definitions together here too, but have not ultimately done so. I think this is crazy. An atheist can be defined quite simply as someone who does not believe in a god or gods. The fact that some atheists assert that god does not exist, while others claim no certain knowledge on the subject, is best left to Usage Notes. Why? Because a word like this is necessarily somewhat nebulous and has a lot of different definitions for different people: it is not only unnecessary but unhelpful to try and unpick them all in a series of graded definitions whose distinctness, in my view, cannot be demonstrated by the citation evidence. Otherwise why not have 200 definitions for Christian depending on what denomination you subscribe to? So tell me, am I convincing anyone or have I just taken leave of my senses. Ƿidsiþ 09:21, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

Personally, I like your treatment of atheism, but there has been previous discussion of the separate meaning on the talk page of atheist, and Richard Dawkins (for one) seems to use the term differently. Dbfirs 09:44, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • I think keeping the senses separated is better. One of the senses of "atheist" subsumes both strong atheists and agnostics, while the other one does not. Similarly, I think it is better to have two sense lines of "cat": a domesticated cat, and any cat including tigers. Interestingly, Merriam-Webster Online has only the strong version of atheism in "atheist", as does MacMillan. I don't think the word is by necessity nebulous; to the contrary, there are speakers who use "atheist" with the clear intention to refer to the strong version that does not include "agnostic" as a subclass. A use in a particular sentence that is clear and intentionally restricts the scope of the term is poorly captured in the dictionary if the dictionary only offers a vague and broad sense. --Dan Polansky 12:14, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • But then what do you do with all the uses which are not restricted in meaning (in my opinion, 90% of them)? Ƿidsiþ 12:23, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • Those uses that do not restrict the meaning belong to the broad sense. When designing a slicing of a term into senses in a dictionary, your task is to find all sentences that use the term, and classify the uses of the term in these sentences by the meaning of the term. For those sentences that use the term in a narrow sense, you need a sense line that fits this use. For those sentences that use the term in a broad sense, you need another sense line that fits this use. Sometimes, you join these two senses on one sense line, using the formula "A such that B, especially when C" or the like, where the part "especially when C" is there for the narrow sense. But then you still have two senses, just packed on one sense line. Again, it is much similar to "cat", which has a narrow sense that is a subset of the broad sense. You have the option to say that cat is "An animal of the family Felidae, especially the domestic subspecies", but it is unclear whether you serve the readers well by using one sense line instead of two. Again, the sentence "I am an atheist rather than an agnostic" does not work with the broad sense. --Dan Polansky 12:34, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    Your number 90% seems odd to me. An atheist (in the broad sense) that is at the same time an agnostic has to admit this: "I believe that maybe there is God" or the like, a stance that I doubt most self-described atheists have. --Dan Polansky 12:38, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    Cat meant Felis domesticus for a thousand years before it was ever applied as a broad term for the genus. The senses there seem obviously distinct in usage historically as well as practically. Atheist, by contrast, has always stood for a considerable continuum of specifics. And by the way, your idea of atheists' belief is not correct: the vast majority of atheists do not say for certain that god does not exist, they merely say that in the absence of proof they do not believe so. Some do go further, but in general the idea of atheists claiming to know that there is no god is a straw man put up by opponents. Anyway, the fact that we have to discuss these fine details at all is more evidence to my mind that our definition should be broad enough to cover this whole range, as almost everyone who uses the term seems to have a slightly different view of it. Ƿidsiþ 12:52, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    The important point is this: Your proposal to have no specific sense in the dictionary does not do justice to those sentences that use the term in a narrow sense. Even if only 10% of sentences used the term "atheist" in the narrow sense, this sense should be documented in the dictionary, or else the dictionary is incomplete.
    The paragraphs that follow are less imporant.
    I do not know much about what the majority of self-described atheists believe. You speak of 90%, but provide no evidence or references. I find the stance of "there is neither God nor gods" natural and simple enough to be naively held, while the stance of "maybe there is God; I don't know; I don't hold the belief that there is God" seems an artificial augmentation against some objections. But, again, I do not know in any reliable manner anything about what most self-described atheists think. My bet is that most self-described atheists are strong atheists, but that is merely a guess.
    The need to discuss this is no evidence for the necessity of having only the broad sense in the dictionary.
    Re: "everyone who uses the term seems to have a slightly different view of it": How unlikely. So far, we have been discussing two senses of the term, one narrow and one broad. --Dan Polansky 13:53, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • I agree with Dan; I strongly support having separate sense lines for the separate senses. The words "atheism" and "atheist" can be used broadly, in a way that applies to those who believe no gods exist and those who do not believe gods exist — and even those who believe certain gods (but not the "right" ones) do exist. The Romans are said to have considered the Christians atheists, at first, because the Christians did not believe in the Roman gods, and I have seen Christians today refer to Hindus as atheists, because the Hindus do not believe in the Christian gods. We certainly need a broad sense that captures this broad use: "a person who does not believe that a particular god or gods exist(s)". However, we also need senses or subsenses that capture narrower uses of the term: one by which Christians and Hindus are not atheists, but agnostics are ("a person who does not believe that any god(s) exist(s)"), and another by which Christians, Hindus and agnostics are all not atheists ("a person who believes no gods exist"). It would be very misleading to have only the broadest attested sense. It is easy to find authors who use narrow senses: find authors who write "A is a Hindu, B is an agnostic, C is an atheist" as though these are different things. I would treat "Christian" similarly: if there are authors who write *"A is a Christian, whereas B is a Protestant", we certainly should add *"(in Catholicism) specifically, a Catholic" as a subsense of Christian. - -sche (discuss) 20:08, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    Interesting. That seems like a recipe for a huge proliferation of senses to me, since different groups of Christians have very different ideas about who else gets to use the label (just look at the current arguments in the US about whether or not Mormons are Christians). People always argue about the application of religious and political labels, it's the nature of it. Solving this by making everyone right for a given separate definition seem misleading to me. Ƿidsiþ 05:19, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Also, consider how other lexicographers have dealt with this situation. The OED, Chambers, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Macmillan, Cambridge Learners – in fact every dictionary I can find has one single definition for atheist. Ƿidsiþ 05:29, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    You are right that almost all or all dictionaries have only a single definition line, but the definition line that they have is often for the strong version of atheism: Merriam and Webster online, MacMillan, Cambridge dictionaries online. --Dan Polansky 06:58, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Dude, I'm sorry but you're wrong. "Someone who believes there is no god" is weak atheism. Strong is asserting that there is definitely no god; this is actually rather rare, and not, I would argue, a truly different sense of the word. See e.g. Negative and positive atheism. Ƿidsiþ 08:07, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    "Someone who believes there is no god" is "someone who asserts there is no god" in the dictionaries' parlance; contrast the dictionaries' definitions of "agnostic" and of eg "Christian" ("one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ"). w:Negative and positive atheism says that only in the parlance of "a few" people is "believing there are no gods" contrasted with "knowing there are no gods" and used to convey uncertainty. - -sche (discuss) 08:32, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    @Widsith: My use of "strong" could have been uncustomary. What I meant by "strong" is the stance "I believe there is neither God nor gods" or simply "there is no god" rather than "I do not hold any belief as to whether there is or there is not God or gods". What I am saying is that the stance of "I believe there is neither God nor gods" should have a separate sense. Any more inclusive or weaker stance can be included as a difference sense, if it can be attested.
    Now look at what you have entered into "atheism": 'The absence of belief in the existence of a god or deity; sometimes more strongly, the assertion that a god or gods do not exist'. Clearly, "I believe there is neither God nor gods" is more specific (or logically "strong", a proposition is stronger if it says more, aka rules more cases out, aka is more narrow) than the sense that you have entered into "atheism". And you yourself have written "sometimes more strongly" in your definition, so my use of the phrase "strong version" was in line with the phrasing chosen by you. The word "strong" does not matter, anyway; what matters is that you want agnosticism to be included in the only sense of "atheist" that Wiktionary would have, whereas I want to have a sense for "atheist" from which agnosticism is excluded.
    For past discussions, I highlight Talk:atheist#RFC_result from July 2010, in which Mglovesfun proposed merger of the more broad and more narrow sense (agnostic-inclusive and agnostic-exclusive sense), Anatoli agreed, and Ruakh opposed. --Dan Polansky 09:35, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
The OED has two definition lines: "One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God." and "One who practically denies the existence of a God by disregard of moral obligation to Him; a godless man.", each with cites spanning hundreds of years. Dbfirs 07:33, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
You're right of course, and I agree that's a separate sense, but that is nothing to do with the three senses we currently have, all of which are part of the OED's sense 1. Ƿidsiþ 08:07, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
  • (after some edit conflict) Random House has two senses of "atheist" (1. absence of belief that any gods exist, 2. belief that no gods exist), and Merriam-Webster has a full set of three, including the now-less-common vague sense which Dbfirs finds that the OED also has. Their version of it, "ungodliness, wickedness", is broader than what I wrote at [[atheist]], "absence of a particular religion"; what I wrote as definition number 1 needs to be broadened.
    With three senses, we are being descriptive. Many deviations from standard religious practice are "atheism" in books, particularly older books. Many, many people (who I presume have written books and Usenet posts) lump all "those who do not believe in god(s)" (including agnostics) together as "atheists". Many, many other books (including almost all modern books that describe one person as an agnostic and another as an atheist) use "atheists" to refer only to those who believe no gods exist.
    As Ruakh said in the old RFV debate: "the comments in favor of merging the senses are basically taking the position that they [...] don't draw the distinction between a negative and a positive atheist, so can't understand the motivation for using atheist to describe only the latter"... but as Dan said, "A use in a particular sentence that is clear and intentionally restricts the scope of the term is poorly captured in the dictionary if the dictionary only offers a vague and broad sense." As has been discussed at length on the talk page, our senses 2 and 3 are clearly distinct: "Those who do not believe in gods" are defined by not having a particular kind of belief (namely, religious belief); they may think that others' beliefs (in gods) could be correct — but "those who believe no gods exist" are defined by having an active belief which necessarily holds that other beliefs (in gods) are wrong. The senses are furthermore clearly used distinctly: as I have written, almost every book that describes one person as an agnostic and another as an atheist uses "atheist" in a way that excludes agnostics. That other books use the term in a way that includes agnostics cannot cause the first definition not to exist, but a second, broader definition must be added to account for the laxer literature. - -sche (discuss) 08:32, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Actually, I disagree with your analysis. To draw a distinction between those who do not believe in god and those who believe there is no god is to base the definitions on the slightest of semantic quibbles, a difference in meaning which I simply do not see evidenced in the citations. I am not saying some people don't draw the distinction. They do. But many don't, and many citations are ambiguous for the simple reason that in reality the word's meaning is not very specific. I believe, contrary to Dan, that in that situation it is more useful to combine these two definitions on one line: "someone who does not believe in a god or gods, or who believes they do not exist". I come back to a comparison with Christian. Do we need separate definitions for every sect's idea of who is and is not a Christian? It would be possible to find citations which use the word very restrictively. But surely it's more useful to identify the idea all these uses are getting at. Ƿidsiþ 11:51, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Butting in, in a way: The distinction is evidenced in quotations, contrary to your assertion. It is evidenced in the quotations already present in the entry in Wiktionary: "I would rather have the pews full of angry atheists and questioning agnostics than [...]"; "If you're not an atheist, what are you? I'm an agnostic. [...]"; "Many have wondered why Freud called himself an atheist and not an agnostic". Furthermore, the distinction is not "the slightest of semantic quibbles"; it is a distinction that leads people to saying such things as "I am not an atheist but rather an agnostic", a sentence that is false if the place of "atheist" is substituted with a broad sense. I see no analogy to denomination of Christians; I do not see what quotations would attest a use of "Christian" that refers only to a particular denomination. --Dan Polansky
    Nonsense, those quotes work perfectly well with the "broad" sense, of someone who doesn't believe in god. What such people do believe is actually irrelevant to the meaning of these citations: the point is what they DON'T believe, and that is exactly the essense of the word atheism. As for your last statement, a few seconds' Googling will demonstrate that many Christians do not consider Mormons to be Christians, many Evangelicals do not consider Catholics to be Christians, etc etc. Ƿidsiþ 13:19, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    On the contrary, a reader must know what atheists do believe to understand the quotations. It is also necessary to know what agnostics do and do not believe. Plug in the suggested broad, all-inclusive definitions of "atheist" and of "agnostic" (the ones that only account for what such people do not believe), and see: "If you're not [someone who does not believe gods exist, but does not necessarily believe they do not exist], what are you? I'm [someone who does not believe gods exist, but also does not believe they do not exist]." "Many have wondered why Freud called himself [someone who does not believe gods exist, but does not necessarily believe they do not exist] and not [someone who does not believe gods exist, but also does not believe they do not exist]." Such a broad definition strips the citations of their meaning. Consider especially citations like
    • 2004 Mark E. Moore, Mark Scott, A Humble Defense: Evidence for the Christian Faith, page 10:
      Ravi Zacharias reminds us, "Atheism is not merely a passive unbelief in God but an assertive denial of the major claims of all varieties of theism; atheism contradicts belief in God with a positive affirmation of matter as ultimate reality.
    • 2007, William Sims Bainbridge, Across the secular abyss: from faith to wisdom, page 10:
      Atheism is not merely a passive lack of faith, but active disbelief in the supernatural. It is more common among men and among better educated people, but until recently we lacked data to probe its sources further.
    Plug the broad, all-inclusive definition into those lines:
    • "[Unbelief in God] is not merely a passive unbelief in God..." (huh?)
    • "[Lack of faith] is not merely a passive lack of faith..." (what?)
    If you don't see the distinction, I think you should defer to those in this discussion and the previous discussions who can see it. - -sche (discuss) 08:56, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
    Hi -sche, thanks for this but you misrepresent my position on what the word means. I do not say that it means "someone who does not believe gods exist, but does not necessarily believe they do not exist", that is exactly what I dispute. I say it means merely "someone who does not believe gods exist", where the position on what else they do or do not believe is variable and irrelevant. If you plug that into the citations we were discussing you will see that they make perfect sense. The two others you include at the end do indeed use the word in a much more specific way, but I maintain that this is not the essence of the word. Hopefully you and I can agree that we could both go off and find very restrictive ideas of what Christian, democrat, Socialist etc. SHOULD mean but writing 20 definitions for them all is a poor response. This is not an argument about what distinctions I cannot see -- of course I see exactly the distinction you are trying to draw, but this is a discussion about how a dictionary responds to politically charged words which have had a variety of restrictive definitions imposed on them by interested parties: I do not think it is helpful (or even sustainable from citations) to split them all up according to fine distinctions. Ƿidsiþ 09:48, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
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    Again, if you examine the matter carefully, you will see that the broad sense is incompatible with "I am not an atheist but an agnostic". This sentence is incompatible with "atheist" as "a person who does not believe in God": if the person is not an atheist and thus not a person who does not believe in God, then the person does believe in God, and is at the same time an agnostic, which is a contradiction. --Dan Polansky 15:10, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
    I gave up this fight in exhaustion long ago, but I'll just examine this argument. I don't understand your logic. Are you arguing for a separate narrow sense of atheist meaning "someone who believes positively that no gods exist"? If so, the double negative you raise still applies. If the person is not an atheist and therefore not someone who believes no gods exist, then the person does believe some gods exist, and is at the same time an agnostic, which is a contradiction. In actual fact, if someone says ‘I'm not an atheist but an agnostic’, most people would interpret that as ‘I wouldn't say I don't believe in god, I'd say I haven't decided’. Again, the key point about the word ‘atheist’ is what they don't believe, not what they do believe. Ƿidsiþ 20:24, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
    If the person is not "someone who believes positively that no gods exist", the person can still have no belief as to whether God does or does not exist, so your 5th sentence is wrong. Put differently, if it is not true of person P that "person P believes that A", it does not yet follow that "person P believes that not A"; it may still be that "person P has no belief as to whether A or not A holds". --Dan Polansky 20:58, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
    • @Ƿidsiþ -- I'm with Dan here: not being an atheist does not rule out being an agnostic. You've got two propositions here, but appear to be linking them erroneously. Abstracting, we have:
    1. (A == B)
    2. (C == B || !B)
    3. Therefore (!A == !C)... which is not a conclusion that follows from the two propositions above.
    Filling in with the terms of this discussion, we have:
    1. (Atheist == NoGod)
    2. (Agnostic == NoGod || God)
    3. Therefore (!Atheist == !Agnostic)... except this does not follow, which is the point that Dan makes.
    And, FWIW, I've always understood atheism to mean "a belief that no gods exist", such that the labels atheist and agnostic are mutually exclusive. In a nutshell, in answer to the question "is there a god?", the religious person would say "yes," the atheist would say "no," and the agnostic would say "maybe." This is how I've always heard the terms used, and I assumed that the terms were formed as they are in order to make this distinction: no + god + -ism and no + knowing + -ism. -- HTH, Eiríkr ÚtlendiTala við mig 23:54, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
    (Enter, With extreme weariness) For the record, I do not disagree with you, I only disagree with Dan's original proposition. On a point of fact, in answer to the question ‘Is there a god?’, almost all atheists would say ‘I don't know for certain’. In answer to the question ‘Do you believe in the existence of a god?’, they would answer "no". However, that is not the point. As I have tried to make clear, I am not denying that people use atheist in slightly different ways, what I am saying is that citations are not sufficiently distinct to justify us in assuming that these are separate definitions: it makes far more sense, in my view, to combine them in one definition along the lines of ‘someone who has no belief in, or who denies the existence of, a god or gods’. That is my point. All citations fit this definition; many (most) citations do not fit obviously into the two more specific definitions. Ƿidsiþ 07:47, 29 October 2011 (UTC)
    @Ƿidsiþ: You are apparently taking the view that atheist belongs to a category of "politically charged words which have had a variety of restrictive definitions imposed on them by interested parties", but I don't see any evidence of that. The cites in the entry demonstrate that a variety of people, including self-described "atheists", self-described "agnostics", and neither-of-the-aboves, have all drawn the same, consistent distinction between the terms "atheist" and "agnostic", using them in roughly the same way that others use the terms "strong atheist" and "weak atheist", or "positive atheist" and "negative atheist". —RuakhTALK 17:31, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
    A distinction between "atheist" and "agnostic" I fully accept, what I don't see is a convincing distinction between the two senses of "atheist". Different people have tried to define the word to answer the question of what kind of atheist, exactly, are you – meaning, what exactly do you believe? But my contention is simply that the answer to that question is irrelevant to the word atheist, which is specifically and only concerned with describing what someone doesn't believe. To put it another way, I don't deny some citations fit both of these definitions; what I say is that all of them would fit a wider definition and would be less misleading given the multitude of citations which don't clearly fit into either specific def because they simply refer to ‘someone who doesn't believe in god(s)’. Do you think it would be useful to split agnostic up similarly? ‘Someone who thinks there might be a god but isn't sure’ and ‘someone who thinks there isn't a god but isn't sure’? Citations could be found to support both, but what is the point and is that really the essence of the word? Do you see what I'm getting at..? Ƿidsiþ 20:24, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
  • A late chime-in here --
I think some of the confusion here might stem from the same issue that tripped me up as I read through this thread -- the ambiguity inherent in saying "A does not believe in B". As I first read it, this meant the same thing to me as "A believes that B does not exist" -- and I think this is how Ƿidsiþ is interpreting the phrase in his immediately preceding post, and possibly in his edit to the atheism definitions. Here, "A does not believe in B" cannot apply to agnosticism.
However, I think Dan, Ruakh, -sche, and the others are interpreting the phrase "A does not believe in B" to mean "A makes no positive affirmation that B exists, but is open to the possibility that B exists". Here, "A does not believe in B" can apply to agnosticism.
Whichever the case with regard to this discussion, the current definitions given at atheism strike me as confusing -- I can find no meaningful distinction between senses 1 and 3:
  1. The rejection of belief that any deities exist.
  2. The stance that deities do not exist (gnostic atheism).
To me, and I suspect to at least a few others, "a rejection of belief in X" is effectively the same thing as "a stance that X does not exist". I'm not even sure what difference was intended. Perhaps the wording could be changed to clarify? -- Eiríkr ÚtlendiTala við mig 16:55, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Actually, I read "A does not believe in B" the same way that you do. When I say that we should keep both a narrower "strong/positive atheist" sense and a broader "strong/positive or weak/negative atheist" sense, I do not mean to argue for the specific wording that was very recently put in the entry, which seems to try to use "does not believe" to mean something like "does not have an active belief". (Sorry, -sche (talkcontribs): I think you dropped the ball in that edit!)
As for sense three — yeah, it's confusing, but if you look at the cites I think you'll see what it's getting at. Putatively, that sense of "atheist" includes anyone who doesn't believe in some specific deity, even if they do believe in a different deity. (Gibbon writes of "atheists" who reject the Roman religion in favor of Christianity; Dawkins would say that I am an "atheist about Zeus", even though I believe in G-d.)
RuakhTALK 17:20, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Thanks, Ruakh. Hmm, then, should sense 3 be reworded to something like "a stance that specific deities do not exist"? This would highlight the difference with sense 1. -- Eiríkr ÚtlendiTala við mig 17:43, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Just to make sure we're on the same figurative and literal page(s): [[atheism]] has three senses (the first two written by JimWae, the last written before 2011), [[atheist]] has three senses (written or modified by me); Jim's first and second senses of [[atheism]] are compatible with my first and second senses of [[atheist]], but my third definition of [[atheist]] ("a person who does not have a particular religious belief, even if (s)he has other religious beliefs... a person who disregards moral obligation...") is not compatible with the third definition of [[atheism]] ("the stance that deities do not exist, gnostic atheism"). I agree with Eirikr (and Ruakh?) that [[atheism]]'s sense 3 is not clearly distinct from its sense 1; the proposed change brings it into line with [[atheist]]'s sense 3. Regarding the other senses: I thought it was clear to juxtapose "who does not believe that any god(s) exist(s) [...] but who does not necessarily believe that no god(s) exist(s)", but if you can formulate it clearer, please do! I'm concerned "who does not have an active belief" carries as many erroneous implications as "does not believe", though: "does not believe in X" leads some people to think "believes X does not exist", but "does not have an active belief" implies "has a passive belief". Perhaps "does not have a belief that X exists", juxtaposed with "but may not have a belief that X does not exist"? - -sche (discuss) 19:31, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
If the definitions at atheism are so clearly distinct in scope, as the editor who reversed my edit claimed, then can someone kindly tell me which of the definitions the four citations should be filed under? It seems an impossible task to me. Instead of working from preconceived ideas about definitions backwards, why not look at the citations and go from there? Ƿidsiþ 20:30, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Oh, I get it: as if we were still a descriptive dictionary. The premise may be contrafactual, but it could be a useful fiction. DCDuring TALK 21:05, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
As Lillian Hellman said, ‘cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth’. You old cynic you. Ƿidsiþ 07:47, 29 October 2011 (UTC)
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First of all, I apologise for saying above that you (Widsith) don't see the distinction between the senses; what I should have said is that you don't think the distinction is being made by the citations. (Right?)
That's the impasse we don't seem to be moving from: I do think some citations use sense 1, some use sense 2, and some use sense 3. I think it clear that McGrath, for example, uses [[atheism]] to mean the "positive"/"affirmative" belief that god is not: McGrath rightly considers that to be "faith" (because it cannot be logically proven that no god exists in any form, even though specific religious claims like "woman was created from man's rib" can be proven to be true or false), and McGrath contrasts this which agnosticism. Sense 2 includes things that McGrath doesn’t include in his use of the term.
It's actually more difficult for me to find citations that clearly use sense 2 (which includes not only the phenomenon described by sense 1, but also agnosticism), but we all seem to agree (right?) that the second sense exists — we may not all agree on the wording, but I should note that I consider my wording to be an attempt at the same "broad" definition Widsith proposed we have as the only definition (if my wording isn't good, let's improve it). I haven't read the whole of his work to make sure, but Paul Henry Thiry seems to use [[atheist]] in sense 2; he says "All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God": children are not born believing either that god is or that god is not, so children are born sense-2-atheists.
Meanwhile, I expect that other citations can be found that clearly use sense 3; that is, which use [[atheism]] as a generic term for any "wickedness" (as the OED puts in) or failure to adhere to the standard religion (regardless of any belief in its god, or in some other god). It's actually possible that a distinction between "wickedness" and "failure to believe in a specific god" may be supported by citations! Dawkins certainly uses [[atheist]] not to mean a wicked person, but to mean a person who does not believe in some god — even if (s)he believes in some other god. Meanwhile, Dbfirs says the OED has citations of atheism being used to mean disregard of moral obligation, wickedness — and I certainly would expect old works might use it in this way.
In other words, I think it is descriptive (DCDuring!) to have three senses. My understanding of the previous discussion is that Dan and Ruakh (and Eirikr?) also think that citations support three senses, or that they think the citations support senses 1 and 2 and they haven't commented on sense 3. - -sche (discuss) 00:59, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
On the other hand, the distinction Jim Wae has made between "The rejection of belief that any deities exist, perhaps without the belief that no deities exist." and "The absence of belief that any god(s) exist(s)." may or may not be supported by citations. - -sche (discuss) 03:21, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
As for concerns about having too many senses, or splitting things too finely: we have 25 senses of [[line]] and 16 or 17 senses of [[water]], many about as distinct as these. As a very good example, we distinguish "An infinitely extending one-dimensional figure that has no curvature; one that has length but not breadth or thickness." from "A line segment; a continuous finite segment of such a figure." If citations make such a distinction, we should (and do). - -sche (discuss) 03:21, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
No arguments there. I am normally a big supporter of splitting definitions in such cases. But what I have found is that most uses of atheist do not fit obviously into a weak-strong division (let's exclude sense 3, which is about immorality and clearly separate). Doing a quick Guardian search I find phrases like ‘Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and atheist friends joined together’; ‘an atheist academic’; ‘A century of research has highlighted that atheists tend to be well-educated’; ‘Theology lets us talk about deep and irrational urges. This is seen by some atheists as weakness’; ‘Must I, as an atheist and humanist, eschew these simple pleasures given to me in childhood...?’ Here it is not possible to decide whether "weak" or "strong" atheists are being referred to, nor, I'd suggest, does it matter. We have to account for these citations. My opinion, apparently a minority one, is that in such a situation the best response is to write a definition which accounts for both vague and specific usage: ‘Someone who does not believe in, or denies the existence of, a god or gods.’ Ƿidsiþ 07:40, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
I'm probably just misunderstanding you, but, just to be clear: everyone agrees that we need a definition that accounts for the vague usage. And everyone agrees that we don't need a specific definition for "weak" atheists, because (so far as we know) no-one uses the term atheist to refer specifically to weak atheists. But I don't think that a definition for the vague usage can really adequately account for the cites that do distinguish "atheist" from "agnostic", just as (to recycle Dan Polansky's example) a definition for "cat" that accounts for the sentence "lions and tigers are two kinds of cats" cannot readily account for the sentence "lions and tigers are related to cats, but are much bigger and scarier". You say that the specific sense of "cat" can be justified on historical grounds, and I don't doubt you; but it can also be justified on the basis of current usage, as can a specific sense of "atheist".
Incidentally, this is a lesser point, but I don't think that "doesn't believe" is a great choice of wording, since as Eirikr points out above, many speakers take it to be roughly synonymous with "disbelieves". (If I have the terminology right, this is an "implicature" which can be "canceled": something like "I don't believe in it, but I don't not believe in it, either" is fine.)
RuakhTALK 21:29, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
Note that the definitions given at Wikipedia, in a nutshell, are: an atheist is primarily someone who is not a theist, i. e. does not believe in any deities. This leaves open the possibility that proof could be presented that could change the atheist's mind. An agnostic is someone who does not even consider such proof possible. In fact, that is an even stronger and less flexible position! Hence, agnosticism and atheism are not at all incompatible, but neither are agnosticism and theism. Counter to common usage, an agnostic is someone whose mind cannot be changed by evidence, as proving the existence of deities is considered impossible in the agnostic's opinion. (For example, because they consider the existence of deities an unfalsifiable proposition.) An atheist who is not agnostic, on the other hand, is open towards such evidence, and could be caused to change their mind, in principle. An atheist is simply an unbeliever. Note that belief and unbelief are mutually exclusive; you cannot believe and not believe in something at the same time. Nor is there an intermediate position; belief is an either/or thing. If you have doubts, are not sure, or have not made your mind up, you are an unbeliever. (If you do positively believe that deities do not exist, that is a belief and has not been strictly proved, as has often been pointed out.) These are the academic, and long accepted, definitions of atheism and agnosticism.
Now a lot of people have come to associate "atheism" with active rejection of belief (antitheism), or even a caricature of radical, fanatic, wild-eyed preachers violently opposing belief, theism, organised religion, religion in general, or even spirituality – the mirror equivalent to religious fundamentalists. Dawkins and his fellow "New Atheists" are often stereotyped as such. However, as I understand them, they are rather just outspoken about their atheism, refuse to be silent, polite and demure, and are adamant about the use of logic to evaluate religious claims. The "New Atheist" movement, if anything, is a reaction against religious fundamentalism and (sometimes inherent or thoughtless) discrimination against people who are open about their atheism, to say nothing of outspoken unbelievers like them. None of the "New Atheists" wants to outlaw religion Soviet-style, and instate science and rationalism as mandatory "state religion", nor do they want to destroy religion and bomb its adherents, buildings and symbols to oblivion, but they demand that atheists be accorded the same rights, and the same respect, as theists. Moreover, they criticise misconceptions and prejudice concerning atheism (such as the old canard that atheists are necessarily immoral and hedonistic, and less likely to do good or care for the future), and are also insistent in their views critical of (mainly monotheistic) religions, which they keep expounding in their books, but they want to convince, on an intellectual level, and encourage and empower existing atheists, rather than to force anyone to change their private beliefs. If you wish to keep your beliefs, and are really convinced, I'd say you could simply ignore Dawkins and his fellows. Fighting against them only makes you appear unsure about your own beliefs, to my mind.
However, the (incorrect) perception of atheism as an intolerant position has led many people to eschew the label "atheist". The seemingly compromising, tolerant, non-committal position they prefer is called agnosticism by them, regardless of the established academic definition. I consider this usage clearly incorrect, but Wiktionary should definitely record it as a secondary meaning, and emphasise the difference between academic and common usages.
In fact, I think the perception that Dawkins does not use "atheism" in the "weak" sense arises from a misunderstanding. He seems to criticise the position which tries to placate both sides when he points out that people are not as sensitive about similar beliefs which are not sanctioned by society, such as belief in fairies, elves or unicorns, or new religious movements, such as neopagan beliefs or small sects (usually with charismatic leaders), because these have no lobbies. Nobody cares about the religious feelings of fairy-believers, elf-worshippers, unicorn-lovers, Odinists and sectarians, and feels free to put them down as oddballs, nutcases, weirdos, Neo-Nazis and fanatics, respectively. Political correctness has very striking limits. The point of parody religions such as Pastafarianism is that all religions are equally irrational and ridiculous, and it is opportunistic and hypocritical to respect only those which have powerful, influential lobbies, be they churches, the Anti-Defamation League, or Scientology, while in the case of non-mainstream religions without any political support, nobody doubts their irrationality.
I'm sure Dawkins respects every belief, however crazy it may seem to him, but that doesn't mean he can't criticise them. His point is that atheism is no more than not believing in patently irrational things such as fairies or elves (and being atheist just means believing in one fewer deity than a monotheist, given that there are millions of deities that people have believed in historically, and that most people do not even come close to believing in all of these), not that people don't have the right to hold irrational beliefs. But he has, reserves and exercises the same right to criticise those beliefs, and that makes him politically inconvenient. His opponents are no less vocal.
Being atheist doesn't mean that you are obliged to be loudly critical of religion, but you are allowed to do so, and you are not required to avoid stepping on anyone's toes or violating people's sensibilities, especially when they don't make any attempt to do the same with you or other views they disagree with, either – notably when it comes to beliefs outside the "establishment". When it comes to denouncing neopagans and occultists, thin-skinned, easily offended Christians and otherwise demonstratively inclusive left-wing activists are the first to act, obviously because those are easy victims – and note that it is impossible not to offend anyone's religious sensibilities, because to fundamentalists, the mere fact that you do not believe the same as them already offends their sensibilities: there is no accommodating them. Political correctness, as in treating people with kid gloves, dancing around controversial issues and walking like on eggshells in the desperate attempt not to offend even unintentionally, is futile, and in their insistence not to offend certain groups, however well-meaning (the way to hell is paved with good intentions, as we all know), PC fanatics will offend others (Yupik Eskimos, Alutiiq and the Siberian Eskimos object to being called Inuit, and no, Inuit-Yupik won't do the trick either, because at least Alutiiq do not consider themselves Yupik: quite a quagmire).
Personally, I consider myself atheist and agnostic or even ignostic, and have been so ever since my teenage years, but nevertheless I retain an endless fascination with religion, as a subject of study. Just because I denounce the irrationality of something does not mean I must hate and want to destroy it. A lot of human culture is deeply irrational, but as long as it doesn't affect me personally, I have no reason not to tolerate it. (Hell, I'm irrational in many ways, myself, but I try not to be a jerk about it, or do harm.)
In short, the distinction between "weak" and "strong" atheism, and sundry variants, becomes absurd when compared to the fairy (etc.) equivalent of atheism; note that Icelanders are known as retaining a tendency to believe in the reality of elves, a source of great amusement to foreigners. --Florian Blaschke 19:10, 17 November 2011 (UTC)
Hi - this has become quite a hefty read, I am not sure that I can do justice to all the arguments raised. Let me just say that I have found few 'serious' sources that entertain the notion that atheism and agnosticism are not distinct and mutually exclusive, indeed many sources explicitly contrast them. I think that a source of unnecessary confusion has arisen regarding the meaning of "reject", "belief", "disbelief" and "denial" - my understanding is that they are all used to signify knowledge claims. Some sources spell that out when they develop the subject further, such as ( emphasis mine ):
Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief. Since many different gods have been objects of belief one might be an atheist with respect to one god while believing in the existence of some other god. In the religions of the west - Judaism. Christianity and Islam - the dominant idea of God is of a purely spiritual. supernatural being who is the perfectly good. all-powerful. all-knowing creator of everything other than himself. As used in this entry, in the narrow sense of the term an atheist is anyone who disbelieves in the existence of this being, while in the broader sense an atheist is someone who denies the existence of any sort of divine reality.
atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable.
I think that this misunderstanding regarding what rejection and denial means in this context stems from failing to factor in noncognitivism - which states simply that "God exists" does not express any proposition at all, which I think we should agree does not yield "with or without a belief that no deities exist".
This is my first foray into wiktionary, so I am not quite sure on how this works, do we build established sources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and scholarly work ( with discussion of course ) or do we build from more or less random citations in primary sources? unmi 17:33, 4 December 2011 (UTC)