Offerings to the atheist dictionary

It seems to me that the rational and the irrational apply very different meanings to many of the same words.  Thus we talk past each other.  For the purpose of clarification, I submit my understanding and application of many of the words that are most relevant to our contrasted positions.

  • Legend: An unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.
  • Parable: a story which is not based on fact, but narrated as if it were actually so, for the purpose of relating a desired point.
  • Fable/Fairy tale: a parable about extraordinary persons or incidents, which includes magical elements and fanciful characters like dragons, witches, giants, magic spells, and/or animals who speak and act like human beings.
  • Mythology: A collective body of legends associated with a particular character, culture, or religion.
  • Mythical:  Any of the above which is typically disputed or rejected as unbelievable.
  • Religion: A doctrine of ritual traditions, ceremonies, mythology, and associated dogma of a faith-based belief system which posits a posthumous promise, that some element of ‘self’ (be it a soul, consciousness, or memories, etc.) may, in some sense, continue beyond the death of the physical being.
  • God: (1) A magical anthropomorphic immortal, central to most religions, typically a primarily spiritual being who’s continued existence may be independent of whichever physical form(s) it may choose.  (2) The name by which the sole or dominant divinity is known by virtually major religions: Hindu, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikh, and even some Buddhists where applicable.
  • Theist: One who who posits specific religious beliefs which include one or more gods.
  • Atheist: One who is not convinced that any actual deities really exist.
  • Gnostic:  One who claims knowledge of the supernatural.
  • Agnostic: One who considers it impossible for mortals to have certain knowledge of the supernatural.
  • Supernatural: That which is assumed to be beyond nature and outside our reality, magical, miraculous, extraordinary, being independent of logic and inexplicable by science because it defies the laws of physics.
  • Magic / Miracle:  The evocation of supernatural powers or entities to control or forecast natural events.
  • Skeptic:  One who considers it foolish to accept extraordinary claims in  lieu of sufficient evidence.
  • Apistevist: one who eschews or rejects faith as a method for knowing things.
  • Knowledge: Justified belief as contrasted with speculation or conjecture; a demonstrable and measurably accurate understanding of -or familiarity with- a given subject, topic, or study.
  • Belief: Something one may hold to be true even if they cannot show it to be true –regardless of their level of conviction or experience.
  • Deism: The belief that a creator god of some sort exists, but that it has since removed itself from material reality, so that it rarely –if ever- responds to prayers, and generally does not interfere with the laws of nature or the affairs of men.
  • Pantheism: A worship of nature rather than a deity, a perspective which may or may not incorporate supernatural elements, and can rely solely on material aesthetics.
  • Avatar: A god in human form. A minimized manifestation of a superior being: A character in a limited realm that is representative of a player outside that realm, and a simultaneous extension of that player such that both share the others’ identity.  The character you play in a video game is ‘you’, in that it is an extension of you which can exist in that world.  At the same time, it is not you, in that your actual identity transcends the boundaries of the game.
  • Faith: A firm, stoic, and sacred conviction which is both adopted and maintained independent of physical evidence or logical proof.
  • Reason: [1] The use of logic and evidence as opposed to emotion. Being reasonable, able to be reasoned with, willing to correct one’s position if given good reason to do so. [2] An evident explanation, facts compelling rational consideration of specific conclusions over those that are neither indicated nor supported by evidence, or which are disputed by the evidence.
  • Rationalism: A secular perspective that belief should be restricted only to that which is directly- supportable by logic or evidence, that while many things may be considered possible, nothing should be believed to be true unless positively and empirically indicated.
  • Secularism: The belief that activities and decisions of society should be based on rationalism as opposed to faith, and that freedom of religion isn’t possible without freedom from religion, especially when imposed by State.
  • Humanism: (1) A rationalist philosophy which considers morality and ethics to be naturally universal human qualities. (2) An irreligious pursuit of truth and political policy independent of faith, but which includes members of any faith, and yet is given legal treatment in the U.S. as a separate religion itself for the purpose of equality with regard to religious freedoms.
  • Science: An objective method of measurably or verifiably improving our understanding of physical nature in practical application or mathematics, through observation and experimentation with falsifiable hypotheses explaining a body of facts in a theoretical framework, to be subjected to a perpetual battery of critical analysis in peer review.
  • Fact: A point of data which is either not in dispute, or is indisputable in that it is objectively verifiable.
  • Evidence: Factual circumstances which are accounted for, or supported by, only one available explanation over any other.
  • Hypothesis: A potentially-falsifiable explanation one which includes predictions as to what different test results should imply about it.
  • Law [of nature]: A general statement in science which is always true under a given set of circumstances. Example: That “matter attracts matter” is a law of gravity.
  • Theory: (1) A body of knowledge including all known facts, hypotheses, and natural laws relevant to a particular field of study.  A proposed explanation of a set of related facts or a given phenomenon. Example: *How* “matter attracts matter” is the theory of gravity.
  • Proof: [legal sense, common vernacular] Something shown to be at least mostly true according to a preponderance of evidence.  [scientific sense] Inapplicable except in the negative: It is only possible to dis-prove a hypothesis or theory. It isn’t possible to prove them positively.
  • Spontaneous generation:  Proposed by Anaximander in the 6th century BCE, and disproved in a series of experiments from 1668 to 1861: The idea that fermentation and putrefaction activates a latent “vitalism” (life-force) in once-living matter; thus recycling organic refuse such as old meat, rotting vegetables, and feces into new forms of already complex, albeit vile, viruses and living organisms from bacteria all the way to animals such as flies and even rats.
  • Abiogenesis:  Proposed by Rudolph Virchow in 1855, and coined by Thomas Huxley in 1870; the current hypothesis replacing spontaneous generation as an explanation for the origin of life: The proposition that the formation of life requires a prior matrix, thus genetic and metabolic cells must have developed through an intricate sequence of increasingly complex chemical constructs, each having been naturally enhanced by particular environmental and constituent conditions.
  • Creationism: A dogmatic religious position asserting a magical origin for living things, if not the universe as well. It is the worship of allegedly sacred scriptures assumed as authority.  It is characterized by its rejection of evolution specifically, but is more broadly opposed to scientific principles in general, especially methodological naturalism. Creationists posit supernatural assertions regardless of evidence, based instead on assumed conclusions, subjective impressions, perceived commitment to community, arbitrary desires, emotional dependancy, and faith.
  • Evolution: Unless otherwise specified, the scientific context always refers to an explanation of biodiversity via population mechanics; summarily defined as ‘descent with inherent [genetic] modification’: Paraphrased for clarity, it is a process of varying allele frequencies among reproductive populations; leading to (usually subtle) changes in the morphological or physiological composition of descendant subsets.  When compiled over successive generations, these can expand biodiversity when continuing variation between genetically-isolated groups eventually lead to one or more descendant branches increasingly distinct from their ancestors or cousins.
  • Microevolution: “Small scale” evolution within a single species / interbreeding population.
  • Macroevolution: “Large scale” evolution between different species / populations: The emergence of new taxa at or above the species level.
  • Monkey:  Any member of the taxonomic infra-order, Simiiformes, also known as Anthropoidea.

To my experience, each of these definitions are defensibly accurate, and should not be significantly different than what you would find by comparing a consensus of definitive sources.  It’s just that common dictionaries are rarely adequate individually, and are almost never phrased well enough.  I have always been working from essentially these definitions, although every time I look at this list, I see room for improvement.  I’m sure others will too.  I think having these terms defined with this level of specific clarity would be helpful to anyone debating or considering the issues between creation v evolution, or theism v atheism, or faith v reason -submitted for your consideration.


Here is an example of why this matters for me personally.  I used to have a much deeper definition of ‘truth’, but it turned out to be wasted on my opponents who were never that lofty.  After my discussions with presuppositionalists, I realized I had to keep it really very simple.

  • Truth:  Any statement which has been or can readily be shown to actually be true.  Personal testimony, conviction, conjecture, or speculation can turn out to be true, and may even be accepted as true whenever objection seems unwarranted, but no statement should be classed as ‘truth’ until examined and vindicated.
  • Lie:  Misinformation or information misrepresented with a deliberate intent to mislead or deceive.

Now, if one asserts as fact that which is not evidently true, (even if they actually believe it), or if they pretend to “know” their god exists, or if they allege that I ‘know‘ that too; if they deny their relation to monkeys, or if I describe the Bible is a compilation of fairy-tales, would any of these claims belong in either of these two categories?  Why?  Or why not?

"No. Why do you ask?"

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