It follows from the previous post that atheism cannot be a simple lack of belief in a god, because the term “god” can mean (and historically has meant) a large variety of things.

Nor can an atheist propose a blanket statement like “Nothing whatsoever is a god,” because I may define “god” as “emperor of Japan,” in which case god would surely exist.

Therefore, an atheistic proposition must always be a denial of a specific and robust concept or idea of god put forth by his opponent. An atheist cannot say, “God does not exist,” without specifying the meaning of the term “god”; but he can proclaim, “The Christian God does not exist,” or “The God of the philosophers does not exist.”

The atheist would then acknowledge that the term “god” has a meaning (or two or three) but deny that it has a reference. A good place to start might be an idea of god that somehow sharply differentiates god from creatures.

In addition, when rejecting a given theistic statement, an atheist must specify the reasons for doing so, such as:

– this idea of God is self-contradictory;
– God, if He existed, would have to be judged evil; but most religions claim that God is good; hence God does not exist;
– everything in the world can be explained without reference to God; hence God is superfluous to life; and so on.

Finally, when faced with a specific argument that claims to uncover an attribute of God, such as simplicity or infinity, an atheist must show precisely how the argument fails.

(It further follows that Smith’s “implicit” atheists like our newborn baby are irrelevant for our purposes, since they don’t advance the discussion.)

In short, Smith’s definition of “atheism” is unhelpful.


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