Theists notoriously misinterpret the word “atheism.” Some misinterpretations are ignorant mistakes while others are deliberate slanders. It is imperative to properly define atheism before one can discuss it intelligently.
Atheism literally means “without theism.” The prefix “a” means “without” and the word “theism” means “belief in a god.” Therefore, atheism can be defined as “having no belief in god.” This includes lack of belief in multiple gods (polytheism) but a monotheistic definition will be used for the remainder of this article for the sake of brevity.
The definition “having no belief in god” seems simple enough but a search of “atheism” in numerous dictionaries produces numerous results. Most dictionaries define atheism in explicit terms such as “the belief that there is no god.”
There is an important distinction between “having no belief in god (implicit atheism)” and “believing there is no god (explicit atheism).” Implicit atheism is a lack of belief, so no claim is being made. Explicit atheism claims that no god exists.
Theists often invoke explicit atheism in order to shift the burden of proof. By defining atheism as “a belief that there is no god” (a claim that cannot be proven)” theists divert attention from the real debate by making silly statements like “I can’t prove to you that god exists but you can’t disprove him.”
Some atheists do assert that god does not exist but most simply reject god due to lack of evidence. The burden of proof belongs to the theist. If the theist cannot provide evidence for god, a rational person must reject the theist’s claim.
Unscrupulous theists try to assign extra baggage to atheism. They assert that atheism causes nihilism, communism and immorality. They claim that atheists are angry, unhappy souls who believe that life is random and meaningless.
Following this logic, having no belief in Allah, Athena, Krishna, Osiris or Thor means that one lives an immoral, meaningless existence. Therefore, morality and meaning are contingent upon where you happen to be born and what religion you follow. To further complicated matters, theists have not proven that these or any other deities exist.
Many atheists are nihilists while others are optimists. Some are criminals while others are law-abiding citizens. Atheists can be selfish or charitable, communists or capitalists. The point is that atheism states what one does NOT believe. Atheism is not a religion or belief system. There is no holy book in atheism, no dogma or tenets. Whatever beliefs one may hold, they cannot be attributed to atheism.
In summary, atheism means “having no belief in god.” It can be an explicit claim that no god exists but most atheists implicitly reject god due to lack of evidence.
Now that the meaning of atheism is clear, theists can no longer shift the burden of proof.