Wednesday, March 5, 2008

All Children are Born Atheists?

vjack at Atheist Revolution is bringing forth the absurd claim that all children are born atheists. His reasoning is that the definition of atheism is a lack of belief in a God. Children lack a belief in a God. Therefore, all children are atheists.

If 'lacking a belief in God' can make one an atheist, then every rock and flower and chirping bird is an atheist.

This is simply not how competent English speakers speak.

In truth, the definition of a word is what it means to competent speakers within a language. If we look at the way competent English speakers use the term 'atheist', it means 'one who believes that the proposition 'God exists' is certainly or almost certainly false.'

One has to have enough cognitive capability to have a belief about God, and that belief must be the belief that the existence of such an entity is so unlikely that it has no practical value.

Which means that the statement 'all children are born atheists' is false.

We could, of course, make it true by inventing our own language - by inventing a new term for 'atheist'. But let's not then lie and say tht this is the definition as if all competent English already use the term in this way. Instead, our 'proof' that all children are born atheists would be like the following proof that you cannot split an atom. The meaning of 'atom' is 'a' (without) 'cut' (or 'that which cannot be cut or broken into parts') So, the idea that some scientists have that we can split an atom is absurd.

The fact is, 'atom' does not mean 'without cut', and 'atheist' does not mean 'without belief in God'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On the contrary, you should read about the difference between "strong atheism" and "weak atheism." Both are recognized uses of the word "atheism," so the appeal that you've made is only partially true. If you take what vjack said to mean "all children are born strong atheists," then your criticism is absolutely correct. However, I think that vjack makes it plain that he means "all children are born weak atheists," which is (in my opinion at least, and I don't think that you've argued with this point in your post) correct.