Talk:Atheism

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Why Are Empirical Arguments Not Included?[edit]

The Existence of God page currently has a nice list of them. BrianPansky (talk) 21:25, 12 January 2016 (UTC)

There are no empirical arguments for atheism. Agnosticism/weak atheism is far more prevalent. Weak atheism is example of the fallacy of equivocation and it is in reality agnosticism. Knox490 (talk) 21:25, 15 April 2016 (UTC)
No, "weak atheism" is not a synonym for "agnosticism". Agnostics may be theists; no weak atheists are theists. ~ Röbin Liönheart (talk) 06:46, 23 August 2016 (UTC)
Agnostic atheist, one who does not openly accept nor deny that gods or a god exists, is "weak atheism". This is different from Agnostic theists who believe in a god or gods but say that it cannot be proven. Gnostic atheism, one who denies the existence of a god or gods, is "strong atheism".   User:Dunkleosteus77 |push to talk  01:18, 1 September 2016 (UTC)

Recent edit concern (April 2016) - Lead sentence[edit]

A recent edit changed the wording in the lead paragraph from:

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.

to the following:

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.

Another editor reverted that edit, with an edit summary suggesting sourcing problems and pointing to a hidden comment embedded in our article concerning the editing the lead against a consensus developed back in 2007. I've carefully read the sources in the lead, and also the embedded note. Those sources cited in our article have been changed (for example, the Encyclopedia Britannica was edited just 4 days ago). Also, the following wording is from the Featured Article version of the article lead: In the broadest sense, it is the absence of belief in the existence of gods. I also see that this Featured Article of the Day bulletin shows the wording: "In its broadest definition, atheism is the absence of belief in deities".

Taking the above under consideration, I've reworded the lead to conform to the presently cited sources (without conflicting with the embedded warning in our article). Please review the present version and let me know if there are any concerns. Xenophrenic (talk) 20:54, 18 April 2016 (UTC)

Thanks. I hadn't noticed that the lead had been changed or I would have reverted it myself. Interesting about the Britannica article being changed. Another reason to avoid it as a source whenever possible. Doug Weller talk 17:58, 19 April 2016 (UTC)
There has been considerable archived debate regarding the presentation of these definitions. From the sources listed, most dictionaries list one of the more narrower definitions first such as "Atheism is disbelief..." where "disbelief" can mean either "rejection" or "to believe not" thus it has been prevalent and is essentially the one adopted by the Britannica (and given that, I find "One inclusive, contemporary definition holds..." to be a tad disingenuous and POVish, it needs rephrasing so it doesn't sound like its one of many when its not, and the change from "belief" to "beliefs" is awkward (although I might just be too accustomed to the former language)). The Oxford dictionary fudges all three at once with "Atheism is the disbelief or the lack of belief...". Runes states "The latter meaning ["not theistic"] is a less rigorous use of the term though widely current in the history of thought". Harvey (in Flynn) admits that the broadest is unlikely to be adopted by the public. Note further that the Featured Article and the versions since have not presented the broadest definition first for there has been no consensus to date to do so, so if the edits are reverted, respect wp:Bold and don't revert back since there has been lengthy and adamant debate as to whether doing so is in accord with wp:due and an RfC may need to be initiated at that point (we currently do have better sources for the broadest definition than we used to have, but even so its not likely enough). --Modocc (talk) 20:46, 19 April 2016 (UTC)
Thank you both for your comments. My initial concern was simply with the pairing of adjectives ('broad', 'narrow', 'inclusive') with the selected definitions ('absence', 'rejection', 'no deities'), and how they have been switched since the 2007 Featured Article designation. Of course debate over the definition of atheism is certainly expected, since that same debate still rages among reliable sources even today. In fact, the very first words in the 'Definition of atheism' section of the Edwards source cited in our lead admits:
No definition of atheism could hope to be in accord with all uses of the term. However, it would be most confusing to adopt any of several definitions that can only be regarded as eccentric. These would result in classifying as believers many people who would not regard themselves as such (and who would not commonly be so regarded), and in classifying as atheists many people who have not usually been thought of in this way.
The very beginning of Chapter 1 of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (2013) warns:
The precise definition of 'atheism' is both a vexed and vexatious issue. (Incidentally, the same applies to its more-or-less equivalents in other languages: atheismus, atheisme, ateismi, etc.) Etymologically, atheism is derived from the classical Greek a- (normally meaning 'not' or 'without') and theos ('god'). Its first extant appearance in English occurs in the mid-sixteenth century, as a translation of Plutarch's atheotēs (Buckley 1987: 9). Even from its earliest beginnings in Greek and English, however, atheism/atheotes admitted a variety of competing, and confusing definitions--often bearing no straightforward relationship to its strict etymology.
Even popular secular humanist writers outside of academia, such as Judith Hayes (The Happy Heretic), acknowledge the lack of a coherent single definition even while taking sides:
What ought to be a fairly simple, straightforward task — defining the word "atheist" — has turned into a philosophical nightmare requiring postgraduate courses and a thesis adviser. And it isn't just the religionists who have screwed things up so royally by heaping undeserved, malicious baggage onto that little word. (Atheist equals immoral, communist scumbag.) No, we nonbelievers are wrangling over it ourselves, and the whole thing is just plain silly.
Most comprehensive reliable sources on the subject begin with similar admission of the disagreement on definition, so it seems odd to me that our Wikipedia article does not do the same. Our article lead, in its present state, only hints that significant disagreement and variance exists between historical, philosophical and cultural definitions. I guess that's a new concern of mine. Regarding which definition gets listed first in our article, I observed that the "broad sense" definition was listed first, so I didn't change it. If you are saying that a "narrower sense" definition should be listed first, because "most dictionaries list one of the more narrower definitions first", I haven't considered that - but I would like to review the discussions that have resulted in that conclusion. I see that the Flynn source that you mention conveys that the first definition is "an absence of belief in", followed by a second definition of "the explicit denial of the existence of", which I presently perceive as the predominant order when all reliable sources are considered, rather than just philosophy sources. I do tend to think our articles should reflect the most common usage overall, rather than usage in a specific field of study, but I will of course defer to whatever Wikipedia precedent exists. On the matter of my introducing the wording, "One inclusive, contemporary definition...", of course it is POVish, the POV of the source, in fact. It is derived from the verbiage in the cited Edwards-The Encyclopedia of Philosophy source which admits that the given definition departs "in a significant respect from the one that is most popular" and is not "the most usual definition", so I paraphrased that as "one inclusive" definition among others. Would it be better to change that wording to "An inclusive", to be less singular, without misleading the reader into thinking it is the only inclusive, contemporary definition? Regards, Xenophrenic (talk) 18:09, 20 April 2016 (UTC)
There was a difference between "broad" and "broadest" and the intervening change from the earlier version of "broadest" to "most inclusively" for this definition didn't concern me, but the rejection or disbelief definition as listed by most dictionaries can be viewed as general and "inclusive" per some sources, it's not by others. Since there is little disagreement as to their meanings, its only their utility within certain contexts which is actually of any concern (e.g. I view most agnostics as neither atheists or theists but as either pseudo-theists (for they may have a belief that a deity exists is exactly 50% probable which is simply a very large probability relative to more mundane odds (so I don't agree that beliefs based on such probabilistic assignments like Dawkins' spectrum of theistic probability are impartial) or they are pseudo-atheists instead because they hold the view that a divine being is unlikely). Of course, what is relevant to the due weight policy issue is how many sources are mustered that take each side as you have noted and I've seen many days when editors advocated for putting their favorite first by bringing the disagreements up when the definitions themselves coexist. Its not any definition that "holds" what atheism is per se but the writers and I don't see Nielsen or Edwards inventing anything new when the 'rejection' or disbelief definition as opposed to the 'no deities' definition has, according to Smith, been very popular as any dictionary will attest. Changing "One" to "An" doesn't flow well and yet I think your revision is approachable although the "definition holds" is strange insofar that it introduces the Britannica's POV which on the whole I think should be left out since they are just one source for these definitions. Never has all the editors had unanimous agreement with what to present when reaching a consensus; a significant number advocate for the broadest to narrowest arrangement and a few others vice versa, but its been fairly stable with the centrist disbelief definition being placed first. -Modocc (talk) 19:57, 20 April 2016 (UTC)
'Broad', 'Broader', 'Broadest', Inclusively", and 'Most inclusively' have each been used in the lead at various times, sometimes paired with "lack of belief" and sometimes paired with "rejection of belief". My edit, following the directions in the embedded editorial note, attempted to restore the usage to something resembling the Featured Article status. I've located this discussion ostensibly started to discuss disagreement over the usage of "commonly described", where an apparent swapping of the terms took place. However, I don't see reasoning for the exchange being presented; the swap appears to be more of an incidental side-effect. Am I missing something in that discussion, or was there a more relevant discussion somewhere else which justifies the change? I've seen where you have mentioned that you felt the wording "in general", as it was used in the Britannica article, was synonymous with "in a broad sense", but I'm not seeing where an active consensus was developed for that pairing. (And I note that the 'in general' descriptor in Britannica was applied not to the "rejection of belief" definition, but to the "critique and denial of belief" definition.)
Regarding your assessment that its been fairly stable with the centrist disbelief definition being placed first, the objections have been many and perennial. I've seen numerous editors (a number as large or larger than those holding opposing views) voice complaints about the order of definition presentation, with the only thing preventing a re-ordering (often) being just a couple of vociferous editors arguing for an arbitrarily determined status quo. I also find the characterization of the "rejection of belief in the existence of deities" definition as "centrist" to be curious; it is certainly one of the more nuanced and complex definitions, and some narrower definitions are encompassed by it, but I don't think it occupies a sort of middle ground between other definitions. I also think the wording in our lead, "the rejection of belief in the existence of deities", doesn't come close to conveying the aforementioned nuance and complexity, and has also been the cause of some confusion in readers. I know it is supposed to be just a summary, but without saying (as the cited sources do) "rejection of meaningless, unintelligible, contradictory, incomprehensible, or incoherent belief in the existence of deities", it isn't made clear to the reader that such "rejection" of belief is held regardless of whether or not the claim that "God exists" expresses a false proposition. Xenophrenic (talk) 15:01, 23 April 2016 (UTC)
I'm not sure reasons for rejection matter any more than the probabilities one assigns (heads, tails, infinitesimal, etc, its just a can-of-worms which cannot be neatly summarized and its a middle ground in the sense that it doesn't include agnostics which have not rejected belief). Regarding "vociferous editors" as if there are not others, please there are no ownership issues here nor have I wasted my time with flawed polemics. Of course there have been perennial discussion and sometimes the fort as it is (the status quo if you will), is held by a few, but if they do go away, others take their place, which is why an RfC is likely needed. In fact, your revision did not restore the paragraph to the Featured Article version; because prior to and during the process of the article reaching Featured Article status there were very strong objections by a number of very active and respectable editors to the broadest being placed first; which they didn't because of the policy issue regarding wp:undue that I mentioned but you have not addressed at all. There are few reliable sources that acknowledge atheism as simply an "absence" compared to those that define it otherwise. -Modocc (talk) 16:29, 23 April 2016 (UTC)
I should have been clearer on two points. First point, when I said my edit was attempting to get closer to the Featured Article status, I meant only with respect to what definition would be paired with the "broadest or broad sense" adjective. You applied it to the "rejection of belief" definition, while I applied it to the "lack of belief" definition, as it was in the Featured Article. You are correct when you observe that the Featured Article version did not place the "broadest" version first. But I must point out, with regard to position, your version (in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities) and my version (in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities) both equally stray from the Featured Article version which instead lists the affirmative disbelief first. So I must ask you, when did the "very strong objections by a number of very active and respectable editors", which apparently concluded that the strong denial of gods should be listed first, get superseded by having "rejection" of beliefs listed first? Second point, when I mentioned "vociferous editors", please rest assured that I did was not thinking of you - I was referring to other, more prolific editors. While I disagree with some of your arguments and conclusions, I found nothing at all objectionable in your Talk page participation (and I went back as far as 2007). As for your assertion with regard to: ...broadest being placed first; which they didn't because of the policy issue regarding wp:undue that I mentioned but you have not addressed... — I did address it. If you'll recall, I said above, "If you are saying that a 'narrower sense' definition should be listed first, because 'most dictionaries list one of the more narrower definitions first', I haven't considered that - but I would like to review the discussions that have resulted in that conclusion." I have since searched the archives, but can not find exactly where the clear consensus was reached. Could I trouble you for a diff or pointer to that conclusion? (I will continue to search, in the meantime.) Regards, Xenophrenic (talk) 18:08, 23 April 2016 (UTC)
Unfortunately, my memory is poor and the archives long and I did contribute to some of it, so I'm afraid I can't be of much further help on that front.. In any case, there have been editors which have sided with the sources that discount the broadest definition. The undue weight argument I mentioned and have used myself in past discussions can be thought of as fairly strong due to the philosophical references that either dismiss or discount the 'absence' definition as not being rigorous (it's inclusive of agnostics that have suspended their judgement and are impartial), or alternatively, it's a very weak argument due to the significant number of dictionaries (even philosophical ones) that list it. Consequently, I'm fine with leading the article with either the 'rejection' or 'absence' definitions. -Modocc (talk) 20:27, 23 April 2016 (UTC)
I removed the plural of belief [1] per my edit summary: "removed plural for disbelief is a rejection of belief; not others' beliefs which may have no bearing on their position". Also, this long-standing consensus version which I reverted to paraphrases a sourced definition [2]. -Modocc (talk) 16:45, 20 April 2016 (UTC)
That's an improvement. Having re-read the sources, I'm not sure now why I made 'belief' plural in my edit. Xenophrenic (talk) 18:20, 20 April 2016 (UTC)
Changing "One" to "An" doesn't flow well and yet I think your revision is approachable although the "definition holds" is strange insofar that it introduces the Britannica's POV which on the whole I think should be left out...
Per that expressed concern, I've no problem with chopping both of those parts out of my edit, leaving simply: A contemporary definition is that atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. But as I noted above, I still feel that is an insufficient summary of the definition offered by Neilsen & Edwards; it doesn't convey that the rejection is for reasons other than that it is a false proposition that the deity(ies) exists. Xenophrenic (talk) 15:40, 23 April 2016 (UTC)
Those authors are simply echoing modern views regarding atheism that have been present for a long long time, not really inventing new versions of atheism, for they are responding to earlier philosophical dogma. For example, consider the Webster's 1828 dictionary's definitions of atheism, disbelief, and the multiple meanings of denial. The ambiguity of disbelief and what it means to reject belief and be an atheist can be seen to date back at least that far. Atheism then is said to embody that atheistic thought, but as we know its just one of several definitions of atheism that contrast with theism. One of the many unanswered objections to the broadest definition that you might find in the archives which has been repeatedly brought up was that the suffix 'ism' implies belief or worse that rocks and trees are atheists! That is misguided and incorrect for the suffix can mean "a : state : condition : property <barbarianism>" [3] which unlike the uncivilized example given is fine. Thus, I'm OK with the suggested revision. -Modocc (talk) 23:17, 23 April 2016 (UTC)
I've edited out the "contemporary" since that is somewhat tangential (like many other things), and revised their order so it is now broadest to narrowest, which should be easier for readers to understand. Perhaps we can attain a new consensus. Again, I think its best to leave the hot-button distinctions that often get raised and that typically have inherent POVs (e.g. inclusion or exclusion of agnosticism, infants too, belief vs. not a belief, varied conceptions of the divine, long lists of reasons for rejection, etc.) which are very difficult to summarize to the body of the article. --Modocc (talk) 00:24, 24 April 2016 (UTC)
  • As a lurker on this page may I add that the current version (broadest ... Less broadly ...even narrower) strikes me as clear and not pandering to any particular POV. A lead should be succinct to answer the simple question whilst allowing succeeding paragraphs and sections to elaborate. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 11:44, 24 April 2016 (UTC)
  • I've been an editor on this page for years and participated in many of the exhaustively long discussions over the introductory paragraph of this article. I would like to echo Martin of Sheffield's comments and endorse this new version. -- Scjessey (talk) 12:25, 24 April 2016 (UTC)
  • I too agree with Martin of Sheffield and Scjessey. The current version is much clearer and doesn't appear to be bias. Regards. danielkueh (talk) 22:09, 19 May 2016 (UTC)
  • I also agree with the current version. Xenophrenic (talk) 09:43, 28 May 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── The undue weight argument is obviously completely correct. Why are we leading with a minority view and building up to what very high-quality sources say is "commonly understood" and "widely accepted"? - Cal Engime (talk) 17:07, 28 May 2016 (UTC)

We are leading with the obviously broadest majority view, then including the narrower, commonly understood philosophy-specific definitions. Xenophrenic (talk) 20:34, 28 May 2016 (UTC)
Why should the paragraph start with the broadest definition? Why not the conventional one, the one most accepted by experts in the field? - Cal Engime (talk) 20:41, 28 May 2016 (UTC)
"Experts in the field?" There is no field of atheism, and I haven't seen any sources indicating "expert atheists". There may certainly be experts in etymology of the term, or philosophical aspects, or the social and cultural aspects, or the historical aspects. While an argument could be made that a narrower definition is more "accepted" by experts in a specific field, WP:WEIGHT requires that we fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources, not just, say, a subset of philosophy sources, for example. Regards, Xenophrenic (talk) 16:23, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
Given the support the "lack belief" definition currently draws from philosophical sources, surely it is agreed that philosophy is the relevant field, and that the history of atheism is the history of a philosophical position, and that social and cultural aspects of atheism are aspects of philosophy in society and culture. Anyway, unless it can be shown that a broader definition is more dominant in these other, uncited sources, the clear preference in philosophical sources tips the scale—no reason has been given for leading with the definition that includes the most people whose "atheism" would be disputed. - Cal Engime (talk) 16:45, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
Our article presently conveys three competing 'meanings' of atheism in the lead paragraph, with the broadest meaning most prominently in use today listed first. Your suggested ordering, placing the narrow "affirmative denial" of the existence of deities first, does have some currency in the philosophical field. It is also the preferred definition promoted by religionists who, in defense of their own beliefs and dogma, wish to reduce and redefine the simple absence of belief as an equally irrational form of belief and dogma, and therefore subject to the same criticisms. But this narrow use of "atheist" does not reflect the meaning in widest use among all reliable sources.
surely it is agreed that philosophy is the relevant field
If you are suggesting that we should restrict our reliable sources to only those in the philosophy field, I think you would be hard-pressed to find support for that. When our readers come here to find information on atheism, they should be presented with information representative of what is conveyed by reliable sources, not just a limited subset of sources from a specific field we select. If you are suggesting that we need to add more non-philosophy sources to the article, that shouldn't be too difficult to accommodate. Xenophrenic (talk) 17:53, 30 May 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Philology is at least as important as Philosophy in a page lead. Have a quick re-read of WP:RF and then consider what a high school student who doesn't understand the word wants to know. I would suggest that the broad definition which corresponds to the meaning of the word is the simple, first meaning. To those who are not versed in the finer shades of philosophy that is how the word is used - sometimes as an insult by religious bodies. The requirement to reject belief rather than simply failing to have belief is a nuance that those who are more interested may appreciate. Keeping to the consensus order also ensures the uncontroversial dictionary definition comes first, the increasingly controversial philosophical arguments come later. Remember, this is a lead, not the detailed information which follows. Too often leads become bloated as editors attempt to squeeze in their viewpoints when all that is required is a brief overview which leads (the hint is in the name) on to the main body. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 18:17, 30 May 2016 (UTC)

The sources don't establish that the broader definition is "most prominently in use," and I don't think they would since the narrow definition not only seems to be favoured by dictionaries, but is used in popular works on atheism such as The God Delusion. It is simply not true that the general public understand atheism to be lack of belief as opposed to affirmation of non-existence, as is attested by Xenophrenic when he says the narrower definition is the one preferred by "religionists," i.e. the overwhelming majority of people. - Cal Engime (talk) 20:01, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
The sources don't establish that the broader definition is "most prominently in use,"
Incorrect. They certainly do, if by "the sources" you mean all reliable sources, and not just philosophy-specific sources, as I said. And the definition in common use is becoming even broader still. Witness the rise of what the common-folk (and journalists) in the 21st century have dubbed the "new atheism", which has moved beyond simply lacking belief in deities, and is now equated with direct activism against religion and superstition. The majority of people (not academics, mind you), who self-describe as atheists today, aren't just rejecting belief in any specific god, but in religion altogether. The co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on Atheism, Stephen Bullivant, acknowledged this when considering how to define "atheism" today, in light of how it has been "commonly" defined in the philosophy field. He determined, as Wikipedia has, that it was best to use the broadest meaning, because:
In the first place, it is broader than the common-language, McGrathian definition, and permits exploration of a range of closely related (and sometimes-overlapping) positions vis-a-vis the existence of a God or gods. However, it is not so broad as to become either meaningless or indiscriminate. Rather, it recognizes atheism to be a useful ‘umbrella concept’, but one which permits various sharper sub-definitions (positive/negative, weak/strong, anti-theism, agnosticism, etc.). Secondly, this usage has both a strong tradition within atheist literature, and has gained a wide acceptance among atheist scholars. Beginning at least with Charles Bradlaugh, who in 1866 founded the National Secular Society, many prominent atheists have argued for the accuracy of this definition (e.g., Flew 1976: 14; Smith [1979] 1989: 8; Hiorth 2003: 9). Frequently, appeal is made to the etymology of atheos/atheist on comparison with similarly constructed words such as ‘amoral’ and ‘asexual’. Given that its alpha privativum prefix strictly means ‘without’, a-theist ought literally to mean ‘without (a belief in) God’. Admittedly, bearing in mind that historically the word has only rarely meant this (and even did not, as we have seen, in classical Greece), there is danger here of falling prey to the etymological fallacy. Nevertheless, the great utility of this definition, and its pervasive – although not universal (see Baggini 2003: 3; Cliteur 2009; Eller 2010) – deployment in recent scholarship on contemporary atheism, more than support its usage.
"religionists," i.e. the overwhelming majority of people.
That one has me scratching my head. I don't know what recent numbers would show for your part of the world, but in England and Wales, non-believers account for more than 48.5% of the populace, and they are commonly referred to as "atheists". As for popular works like "The God Delusion", I know the author says he identifies as both an 'atheist' and 'agnostic', and that he cannot affirmatively deny the non-existence of deities (although he lives his life as though they do not exist), so I think that rather supports my point instead of yours. Xenophrenic (talk) 21:45, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
Thanks, I've been searching for the figures. There is a rather large transatlantic divide on this. Atheism is the largest group in the UK, but are a very much smaller group in the USA. Both sides of the pond need to take cognisance of this and not make assumptions on purely local figures. Apologies to other Anglophone nations, I don't have the figures to hand. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 22:15, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
You're undermining your own points. The fact that the public associates the term with crusading against religion rather than passive unbelief tends to support the narrower definition. Anyway, the citation from Bullivant says that the definition is historically rare, and the whole sweep of atheist history is more notable than a trend in contemporary pop culture. As for the proportion of atheists to others in England and Wales, well, to paraphrase Nietzsche, men do not reject religion, only Englishmen do. About Dawkins, the seven-point scale of belief he presents in chapter 2 of his book clearly gives an "affirm non-existence" account of atheism: a theist without doubts is a 1, an atheist (defined by Dawkins as someone who says "I know there is no God") is a 7, and agnostics are somewhere in the middle. - Cal Engime (talk) 23:06, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
...crusading against religion rather than passive unbelief...
There is no juxtaposition there. The lack of belief has spawned activism against religion in government, education and politics. The "new atheism" is not "crusading" against the existence of a deity, but rather against the continued encroachment of religion in public life, so my point stands.
Bullivant says that the definition is historically rare, and the whole sweep of atheist history is more notable than a trend in contemporary pop culture.
Actually, no he doesn't - he says just the opposite, noting that the narrow view is outdated, constrained to it's earliest origins as defined by people of religion (as a pejorative) and the field of philosophy of religion, and therefore, "I believe a far better and usable definition of ‘atheism’ – one already in scholarly use – can be located in the category not of ‘commitment’, but of ‘belief’. What I want to do in this short paper, then, is simply to outline what I believe to be a fairly uncontroversial definition of atheism already in scholarly use: ‘a lack of belief in the existence of a God or gods’." That further supports my point. And I do believe Bullivant's more accurate and "uncontroversial definition" is the very thing Martin of Sheffield mentioned about our present wording, which: "ensures the uncontroversial dictionary definition comes first, the increasingly controversial philosophical arguments come later."
As for the proportion of atheists, you linked to a Pew study a half-decade old, whereas the newer study shows a 50% increase in that number of "non-religiously affiliated" worldwide. And far from being a "pop culture trend" like a hair style or the Pet Rock, the data indicate an ongoing sea-change and steady maturation of society globally.
About Dawkins...
I would request that you re-read that section from Dawkins more carefully. In his seven-point Spectrum of theistic probability, he lists number 1 as specifically, "Strong theist - 100 percent probability of God, 'I do not believe, I know'." And he defines three atheist categories ("leaning", "de facto" and "strong"), not just one as you implied, with only number 7 as "Strong atheist", but immediately qualifies that, saying, "I'd be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated." So rather than define atheism as someone who says "I know there is no God", he instead says that category is nearly empty because atheists don't have "faith", and reason won't allow for the conviction that something definitely doesn't exist. He, who has been called the UK's most famous atheist, then explains that even he isn't a "category 7" in affirmative denial. Most atheists aren't. Which supports my point. Xenophrenic (talk) 04:37, 31 May 2016 (UTC)
In fact, Dawkins identifies two categories as atheism, with 5 being only an agnostic who is only "leaning towards atheism," and a 6 is someone who considers the non-existence of God so much more likely than the alternative that they take it to be true and act accordingly, which would undoubtedly be difficult to distinguish from a belief in God's non-existence by any reasonable definition. Even then, that makes you a "de facto atheist," a qualified expression that suggests a 6 in some way is not really an atheist, unlike the paradigmatic 7. I think it's a misreading of him to say that he personally doesn't affirm non-existence, since what he calls "the central argument of my book" attempts to reach "the main conclusion of the book", "there almost certainly is no God", but regardless, Dawkins' personal atheism or lack thereof, or whether Dawkins thinks there are very many atheists, has no bearing on the definition of atheism he has explicitly adopted in his very popular book, just as Dr Bullivant's expertise on atheism is not somehow compromised by the fact that he is a Christian and not any kind of atheist—and I don't understand how you can claim that he "says just the opposite" of what you have just quoted him saying, that "historically the word has only rarely meant" without a belief in God, in the course of explaining why he is justified in adopting this meaning rather than what he calls the "common-language" definition. - Cal Engime (talk) 23:27, 31 May 2016 (UTC)
To add support to the current ordering from a purely logical/cognitive perspective, a clear expression of definitions that differ in extent and complexity is often done by moving from the simplest to the most specific. In this case, the third category fits inside the second category, which fits inside the first. Thus, when introduced from the broadest to the narrowest each step introduces more complexity which also happens to build upon the preceding definition. This contrasts with the reverse order, which taxes the working memory by introducing the most complex and constricted definition first137.111.13.204 (talk) 23:42, 31 May 2016 (UTC)
Dawkins does think there are very many atheists - including himself; but as for the kind who insist they 'know' there is no god, Dawkins says there are not many at all. That supports the point. Bullivant, with his "expertise in atheism", acknowledges that narrower views were common during certain historical periods, or from a philosophical perspective, but says those views are inadequate, outdated and have been justifiably superseded with the "lack of belief" definition. That supports the point. High quality sources also criticize the narrower views on etymological grounds. About the "affirmative denial" meaning, the Cambridge Companion to Atheism states, "Certainly, many people understand ‘atheism’ in this way. Yet this is not what the term means if one considers it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek ‘a’ means ‘without’ or ‘not,’ and ‘theos’ means ‘god.’ From this standpoint, an atheist is someone without a belief in God; he or she need not be someone who believes that God does not exist." That supports the point. As IP:137 just noted, our presentation of the broadest, most inclusive definition before the narrow, more specific definitions, is also the most logical. That supports the point. And as noted above, we're not putting the presently least used, but most controversial and POV description ('atheism is just another belief system/religion...') first. Xenophrenic (talk) 16:40, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
I hope we can keep this discussion closely based on the sources and not histrionics about the ghastly, terrible religionists and their devious insinuations that atheists believe things—it is frankly absurd to impute an agenda of making atheism out to be "just another belief" to atheist authors like Smart, McCormick, and Baggini who attest the normal definition, or for that matter to Dawkins, who cannot reasonably be claimed to endorse the lack-belief definition; he can count as atheists those who, like him, admit just the slightest doubt about God's existence while still distinguishing them from agnostics, as he clearly does in the text. Bullivant does say that the lack-belief definition has gained acceptance among atheist scholars, but above you thought that specialised usage within academia should be discounted, so surely you find his testimony to the common-language meaning more important? It is true that sources appeal to etymology to support the lack-belief definition, but Bullivant correctly notes that this etymology is (a) false, and (b) a fallacious criterion of what the word means or should mean today, so at best what the sources as a group say about this point does nothing to tip the balance in favour of lack-belief. Proceeding from broadest to narrowest is no more logical than proceeding from narrowest to broadest, and I think IP:137's argument that readers will find believing there is no God a significantly more difficult concept to understand than lacking a belief in God should be entirely dismissed. Finally, I think the sources give good reason to think that it is the lack-belief definition that is the most controversial, since those that endorse it like Bullivant, Flew, and Martin say things like that the broader definition is the common-language one or the one that will be found by looking up atheism in a dictionary, and explicitly ask that the word be construed in an unusual way. The least controversial definition is the most widely accepted one, and the one that doesn't include agnostics who would not wish to be called atheists (like Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, who is known to be unhappy with Wikipedia's treatment of him in this regard): those who believe there is no God, the only class of people included by all three of these definitions. - Cal Engime (talk) 23:12, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
What appear as "histrionics" to you is actually from the very sources to which you say we must cling. Dawkins does not count himself as an affirmative denier, nor does he think very many people do. Bullivant himself uses the etymological evidence in support of his argument that atheism is best defined as a lack of belief in gods (with a footnote that by "lack of", he in no way implies any deficiency on the part of the nonbeliever at all). Odd that you claim he says it is false/fallacious. Those who use the most widely accepted and least controversial do not "explicitly ask that the word be construed in an unusual way"; to the contrary, they have observed that it is already the dominant meaning in use, and they therefore argue that the archaic, specific-field definitions be deprecated. Xenophrenic (talk) 23:36, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
Cengime- That wasn't my argument, so your response to that can be dismissed. The point relates to logical ordering of definitions/sets, an attempt at describing an objective approach to this rather than focusing on biases, and using language which implies ad hominems (histrionics, for example). I have contributed to this page for a number of years, and am quite familiar with this discussion. The poorly sourced arguments that you are advancing now are no different to those advanced and addressed a number of years ago, though the youtube clips are at least new. There are enough sources that we need not rely on opinions about this, we have scholarly works that support the current ordering. Criticising the use of those works merely invites an argument about what sources should be emphasised on wikipedia, in which event there are numerous templates that can be provided to end this fruitless discussion.137.111.13.204 (talk) 00:13, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Xenophrenic: Dawkins' or anyone's denial or non-denial of the existence of God is irrelevant, his narrow definition of atheism still shows that it is in common use. Bullivant says what I say he does about the etymological argument, again, in material that you yourself have quoted. He observes that "appeal is made" to this argument by some writers, but then he says that this is not the authentic meaning of the Classical Greek root:
Admittedly, bearing in mind that historically the word has only rarely meant this (and even did not, as we have seen, in classical Greece),
Then he warns about the fallaciousness of such arguments in the first place:
there is danger here of falling prey to the etymological fallacy.
Then, he does not defend the argument but rather says that in spite of these weaknesses, the definition is justified for reasons independent of folk etymology:
Nevertheless, the great utility of this definition, and its pervasive – although not universal (see Baggini 2003: 3; Cliteur 2009; Eller 2010) – deployment in recent scholarship on contemporary atheism, more than support its usage.
I do not know to whom you are attributing the assertion that the broadest definition is the dominant meaning in use. Bullivant, in this case, indeed "says just the opposite": "Even today, however, there is no clear, academic consensus as to how exactly the term should be used." Turning to use in common language, he cites a survey he conducted of Oxford students in 2007 in which, presented with several definitions of atheist, over 80% said that it meant "a person who believes that there is no God or gods" or "a person who is convinced that there is no God or gods", and 13.6% chose "a person who lacks a belief in a God or gods." You could hardly have consulted Flew 1976 without reading his declaration at the very beginning that the term atheism "has in this contention to be construed unusually" and that "The introduction of this new interpretation of the word 'atheism' may appear to be a piece of perverse Humpty-Dumptyism, going arbitrarily against established common usage." Martin 2007, which you have also just quoted, says just what I say it does, "If you look up 'atheism' in a dictionary, you will find it defined as the belief that there is no God", and not that this usage is wrong or obsolete but rather that it "should not be overlooked," and then in fact proceeds to adopt both definitions, distinguishing between the dictionaries' "positive atheism" and "negative atheism." It is simply not true that the reliable sources on this subject say that the broad definition is dominant in academic or everyday usage. What we do have are very high-quality sources that say the narrow definition is "commonly understood" (Rowe 1998), "widely accepted" (McCormick), and in "established common usage" (Flew 1976), and at worst, that there is "no clear, academic consensus", which puts due weight firmly on the side of the narrow definition. - Cal Engime (talk) 02:33, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
You might think so, but there's a very longstanding consensus for the current order, discussed and debated exhaustively by scores of editors, across multiple discussions spanning many years. Your view may well be correct, but unless a consensus is reached that your view should prevail, the article should remain in its stable condition. Needless to say, trying to edit war your preferred version into the article is absolutely unacceptable. -- Scjessey (talk) 12:30, 6 June 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Wikipedia is not a democracy, and as the page you have linked explains, consensus is not a majority vote. It is necessary that reasons other than force of numbers be provided ("The quality of an argument is more important than whether it represents a minority or a majority view. The arguments "I just don't like it" and "I just like it" usually carry no weight whatsoever."), and the global consensus behind Wikipedia:Neutral point of view and Wikipedia:Verifiability is not overridden by some clique's local "consensus" to ignore them. Nobody has disputed that WP:WEIGHT should guide the order of definitions in the first paragraph. It was also claimed that the sources establish that the "lack belief" definition has become the dominant one, but these claims were false, and the sources say the opposite. If the other side only wants to follow this up by digging in their heels and withdrawing from the discussion for five days and counting, they are welcome to withdraw from maintaining the article as well. - Cal Engime (talk) 01:53, 7 June 2016 (UTC)

In spite of the narrowest definitions, many sources still acknowledge negative atheism since it and positive atheism are inclusive of all nonbelievers (agnostic or otherwise). Moreover, due weight isn't about what is popular, but what can be sourced and although there is not agreement on what atheism is or should be, the broadest definition of absence of belief is pervasive in recent scholarship (per Bullivant) and it can be found listed in many dictionaries thus I'm satisfied that we are justified in leading with it. Putting aside the issue of reordering the definitions, your revision [4] to: "In philosophy of religion, atheism is commonly understood..." misses the recent pervasiveness of negative atheism within the philosophy of religion. --Modocc (talk) 04:24, 7 June 2016 (UTC)
The sources support the inclusion of the definition, but there doesn't seem to be any firmer reason for pushing it to the front other than the personal preferences of editors. Most of the sources present the broad definition alongside the more common definition (see all four sources currently cited for the broad definition), or the common definition alone. The consensus order of narrowest-to-broadest that was established when this article became featured better reflects the representation of these definitions in the sources. - Cal Engime (talk) 00:40, 10 June 2016 (UTC)
That 2007 version wasn't accurate and didn't last long for it was inappropriate to say, in our collective voice, that atheism is a position when there was and is legitimate disagreement on that and even when atheism is an explicit position it's dubious it's always a "philosophical position" as if atheists are philosophers. The different definitions were segregated and the rejection of belief definition placed first for it better reflected a broader more inclusive definition of atheism that didn't include agnostics, but consensus can certainly change and I've no problem with that especially when whatever we have to say is accurate. Modocc (talk) 03:28, 10 June 2016 (UTC)
I don't think there is disagreement among the sources about whether atheism is a position; sources like Martin 2007 talk about negative atheism being justified, negative atheism entailing things, etc. Nevertheless, this is no reason not to follow the sources in saying that affirmation of non-existence is what atheism is commonly understood to mean (per Bullivant, Rowe, McCormick, Flew) and that the "lack of belief" definition is unlikely to be adopted by the public (per Harvey). - Cal Engime (talk) 11:08, 10 June 2016 (UTC)
Which of the three definitions the public employs is a red herring for what matters per wp:weight policy is what definitions scholars use and the absence of belief is pervasive (i.e. common) in recent scholarship per Bullivant. As for accuracy, Smith stated that the disbelief definition is also common so its prudent for us not to be over-stating how common each of the definitions actually are. --Modocc (talk) 13:03, 10 June 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Bullivant keeps being mentioned. It is perhaps relevant to consider one sentence from page 1 of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism by Bullivent and Ruse: "The existence of the deity - to be a believer, a theist in some sense, or to be a non-believer, an atheist in some sense - is no mere matter of academic concern and interest". Quite clearly the term atheist in some sense is in contradistinction to a theist and is therefore to be interpreted in in broadest sense. Consensus here, respected recent scholarly works and philology give the broad definition.

It seems to me that the problem for many theists is that whilst they can accept a different belief, even a belief in absence, they cannot comprehend the absence of a belief. It is akin to the problem with the "meaning of life". A common rejoinder from some theists is that without a belief in some deity, what is the meaning of life? They accept that there may be other meanings, but that there does not have to be a "meaning of life" is actually impossible to comprehend. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 13:58, 10 June 2016 (UTC)

Let's please not waste breath trying to psychoanalyse the overwhelming majority of language users (per Bullivant 2008) and the reasons they may have for giving the word a narrower sense, the sources are quite sufficient to base a decision on. It is true that Bullivant says the broad definition is "pervasive" in "recent scholarship of contemporary atheism," but even if the scope of this article were not broader than "contemporary atheism," pervasive does not mean what "commonly understood" and "widely accepted" do, so there is no reason to doubt what the other sources have to say about the matter. Bullivant's passing reference to being "an atheist in some sense" makes no difference to what has already been quoted from the work cited about the historical rarity of the lack-belief definition, the continued currency of the affirm non-existence definition among academic writers like Baggini, Cliteur, and Eller, and the widespread understanding among the general public that an atheist is one who has a belief or conviction that there is no God or gods. - Cal Engime (talk) 21:57, 10 June 2016 (UTC)
"Bullivant's passing reference..."? Absolutely not. Bullivant (the leading editor of what may likely turn out to be a great book in the study of atheism given its extensive list of academic contributors) states that "Throughout this volume,by contrast, unless otherwise stated, 'atheism' is defined as an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods." He says this definition is pervasive but not universal and its pointless to conflate popular usage (which happens to vary with region and groups) with the academic exceptions he mentions. In addition, other editors have earlier expressed opposition to stating in the lead that some definitions are more common than another. What is the point even other than to push undue favoritism of the narrowest over the others? --Modocc (talk) 23:03, 10 June 2016 (UTC)
Page 1, second paragraph, where one is starting to introduce terms and subject is a passing reference? Either Bullivant is an incompetent author or else he meant exactly what he put in such a prominent position. Personally I side with the latter! Martin of Sheffield (talk) 08:11, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Yes, Bullivant says these things, he also says that the common language definition is historically more prevalent and cites its recent use in scholarship. There is no need to retread this ground: the sources as a whole give decisively greater weight to the affirm-nonexistence definition, and the reason for this dispute is that some editors want to give less weight to the affirm-nonexistence definition, which they suppose theists and religionists favour because they cannot comprehend the absence of a belief and want to represent atheism as just another religion, because they want Wikipedia to take the POV that the lack-belief definition is objectively better on the basis of specious etymological arguments or whatever other non-policy-based reason. Bullivant and the other reliable sources are clear enough to anyone open to what they have to say. - Cal Engime (talk) 17:48, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Our policy, wp:reliable sources is to give greater weight to current scholarship such as The Oxford Handbook of Atheism than to historic and dated works. -Modocc (talk) 18:24, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Good thing, then, that Bullivant supports my points! - Cal Engime (talk) 18:29, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Reread Bullivant and answer me this, what does etymological arguments have anything to do with this dispute when dictionaries list the broadest definition's meaning? --Modocc (talk) 18:51, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
You tell me, I'm not the one who tried to introduce it into consideration saying, "High quality sources also criticize the narrower views on etymological grounds", nor the one who tried to introduce it into consideration saying, "Consensus here, respected recent scholarly works and philology give the broad definition." Plenty of dictionaries could be cited for "positive atheism" being the primary sense of the word, such as the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, the Random House Dictionary, and the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary, just as is the case with the more specialised sources. The notes to the page as it stands say that most dictionaries list the narrow definition first. - Cal Engime (talk) 19:05, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Fair enough, but then please do not rehash your continued conflation of popular usage (which is the job of dictionaries to establish amongst all writers and is irrelevant here) with academic weight. To be clear, the handbook is a current survey and study of this article's topic, the scope of which is all forms of atheism. The book gives the greatest weight to the broadest definition as pointed out earlier by Martin of Sheffield, so why shouldn't we follow suit in accord with that weight amongst scholars? Regarding specific scholars, Bullivant writes that
Nevertheless, the great utility of this definition, and its pervasive – although not universal (see Baggini 2003: 3; Cliteur 2009; Eller 2010) – deployment in recent scholarship on contemporary atheism, more than support its usage.
-Modocc (talk) 19:47, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
What Bullivant says is that "there is no clear, academic consensus as to how exactly the term should be used." His own choice, motivated by his background as a theologian, should be weighed against other reliable sources that adopt other definitions, like the three recent sources you quote him citing. - Cal Engime (talk) 20:11, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Yet there is no reason we should dispute Bullivant's assertion that the broadest definition is pervasive among scholars without either doing are own survey of the literature as you suggest (which is perhaps folly given our source here has done this for us) or finding a contrary well-sourced opinion on the matter. --Modocc (talk) 20:35, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
On the contrary, as I have noted repeatedly, we have several high-quality sources that say the affirm-nonexistence definition is "widely accepted," "commonly understood," "established common usage"—pervasive is not such strong language that we would need to take Bullivant as contradicting McCormick, Rowe, and Flew. It is the "common language" definition, and "it is unlikely that the public will adopt" the alternative. There is no good reason to throw all this material out the window and give our exclusive attention to a cherry-picked sentence from a source that also says there is no clear consensus about how the word is to be used, because editors' personal animus against the most prevalent definition is not a good reason. - Cal Engime (talk) 23:48, 11 June 2016 (UTC)
Your ad hominems are unwarranted and you have not altered my reasoning about what I've said regarding the definitions, our references and the applicable policies, which means that I've nothing further to say for now other than I will continue to support the current consensus. --Modocc (talk) 00:12, 12 June 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── It is not an ad hominem to take not of the fact that multiple participants in this discussion, all on one side, have thought it worthwhile to openly disparage the definition with the strongest support of the sources for personal (and apologetical) reasons unrelated to anything found in reliable sources, closely linked to personal abuse of "theists" and "religionists," who are alleged with no evidence and to no purpose to be the primary or sole supporters of the conventional definition because they find lack of belief "impossible to comprehend" and want to redefine it as an "irrational form of belief and dogma," who apropos of nothing at all are supposedly fading away with the "maturation of society." If you think that with enough biased people, the bias can be laundered into a pure and wholesome "consensus" that can be invoked in defence of the status quo independently of policies and sources, you are wrong. I, at least, remain open to hearing any reasons why the order of the opening should not reflect the balance of the sources. - Cal Engime (talk) 01:15, 12 June 2016 (UTC)

You should take that with grain of salt, for none of that commentary was directed at you personally nor have I engaged you with any. As for the ad homiens that matter regarding your discussion of the sources with me: "motivated by his background as a theologian" is unwarranted. "...Bullivant as contradicting McCormick, Rowe, and Flew." no he does not nor had I imply that. --Modocc (talk) 01:28, 12 June 2016 (UTC)
Bullivant writes "There are also theological motives for my adopting this definition" on p. 17 of his dissertation The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology (OUP, 2012), and goes on to relate the broad definition to statements about unbelief in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. But I'm the one who needs to "reread Bullivant"...
If there is no contradiction between Bullivant and the other sources, then he gives us no reason not to accept what they say about the narrow definition being the most accepted. - Cal Engime (talk) 01:35, 12 June 2016 (UTC)
OK, but please do not repeat what you said earlier about animus against strong atheism at least not when you are conversing with me. The other sources are older and are not as restricted in scope as Bullivants assertion. --Modocc (talk) 01:57, 12 June 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Just as a reminder, there remains no consensus to change the stable version, in fact quite the opposite. I continue to urge User:Cengime not to edit war, lest that editor find oneself reported for doing so. -- Scjessey (talk) 11:54, 12 June 2016 (UTC)

"Advocate for"[edit]

Merriam-Webster defines "to advocate ..." as "to support, or argue for ..." which makes "to advocate for .. human reason" a solipsism. It would be equivalent to "to argue for for ... human reason" or "To support for .. human reason" It grates upon my, possibly pedantic, linguistic sensitivities. But I love Wikipedia, and prefer to think it perfect.
DaveyHume (talk) 20:43, 9 June 2016 (UTC)

It would more closely reflect the cited source if you changed the end of that sentence to read: witnessed the first major political movement in history founded on the superiority of human reason. Xenophrenic (talk) 20:56, 9 June 2016 (UTC)

Proposed merge from Libertine-atheism[edit]

Graham11 has proposed merging the Libertine-atheism page here.

That page has very little on it and the term itself seems mostly a word combination used by critics of atheism to add a little pejorative weight to their disapproval of atheism. The page has no supported reference that it refers to a body of beliefs held by a group of people, now or in the past. How it made it onto the Template:Atheism sidebar is a mystery to me.

What's to merge? Should it just redirect to some suitable page or section that places the criticism in context, like Secular ethics? Criticism of atheism?  —jmcgnh(talk) (contribs) 04:29, 30 June 2016 (UTC)

Agree For the little in it you might just as well WP:PROD it. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 08:29, 30 June 2016 (UTC)

Agree WP:PROD -- ZH8000 (talk) 11:53, 30 June 2016 (UTC)

  • I PRODded the article in question earlier. Perhaps someone can second the PROD? -- Scjessey (talk) 16:26, 30 June 2016 (UTC)
For sure. Graham (talk) 19:09, 30 June 2016 (UTC)

Image for atheism[edit]

I think the use of the atheist alliance symbol at the top of the page is misleading. Atheism is notoriously not organised and many atheists feel this is a strong part of their identity. (e.g. Dawkins' "herding cats" comment [[1]])

People often try to misrepresent atheism as a religion when it is the opposite. If anyone has a good idea for another image? 137.222.59.4 (talk) 14:12, 29 July 2016 (UTC)

It is a problem, yes. I support removing the alliance symbol from the top. Isambard Kingdom (talk) 14:19, 29 July 2016 (UTC)

User:Isambard KingdomI think this would have to be discussed at Template talk:Atheism sidebar where I would support it. Doug Weller talk 16:09, 29 July 2016 (UTC)
Okay, I initiated a discussion at Template talk:Atheism sidebar. Isambard Kingdom (talk) 17:08, 29 July 2016 (UTC)
    • ^ Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion