Defining Atheism and the Burden of Proof

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© 2018 The Royal Institute of Philosophy. In this paper I demonstrate how certain contemporary atheists have problematically conflated atheism with agnosticism (knowingly or unknowingly). The first type of conflation is semantic fusion, where the lack of belief in God is combined with the outright denial of God, under the single label of 'atheism'. The second is morphological fission which involves the separation of atheism into two subcategories where lack of belief in God is labelled as negative atheism and outright denial of God as positive atheism - and while here they are more explicitly demarcated, they are still positioned under the broad notion of atheism. I argue in this paper that atheism should be better used as the propositional denial of God and that uncertainty and unknowability about God should be reserved to characterise agnosticism. Conflating these positions under the single term 'atheism' mischaracterises agnostics and inflates the territory of atheists. In clarifying these terms, I review how the nuances in the prefix a- in atheism have potentially contributed towards these misnomers. I also suggest the use of the categories 'local atheism' and 'global atheism' to clarify on whom the burden of proof lies within the discourse.

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Shoaib Ahmed Malik, Zayed University