And there he goes again. The only thing worse than trying to talk about Greek grammar is pretending you know Greek when you don't.
Okay, so we here have the tired and rather standard claim that "atheist" doesn't mean "God does not exist" but "the lack of belief (hence, the 'a' in 'atheist') in God." Thus, it supposedly follows that atheists make no positive claim, and all of this is a clever ruse by which they atheist can shift the burden of proof to the theist. After all, the atheist isn't makig a claim! The theist is! So, pony up with the evidence, theist!!!
As expected, Lunalle doesn't know what he is talking about. There are two serious problems with his argument.
1. Historically, he is wrong. Throughout history, 'atheist' was used to refer to those who denied the existence of God. That changed in 1976 when Anthony Flew wrote The Presumption of Atheism
. In that book, he made the argument Lunalle is now copying. It didn't matter to Flew that he was using the word differently than it had been used in the past. He wasn't arguing for
atheism. He was trying to set the ground rules by which the atheist/theist debate could continue. So Flew just redefined
the term. In doing so, he distinguished between "negative atheism" and "positive atheism," the former being the lack of belief in God and the latter being the positive assertion that God does not exist.
It's important to note that all of this was set in a procedural context by Flew, a context that has been totally ignored by less sophisticated atheists who follow him and who are just looking for a cheap way to "debate" (as we have in this case). In fact, all Flew was really
saying is that anyone who claims to know
his position is correct has the burden on them. Thus, the one who claims God does
exist must prove the case. And, of course, no Christian would deny that. Likewise, the one who claims God does not
exist must prove that
is the case. That should be equally unquestionable. The problem with atheists is that they have claimed Flew's negative atheism as "atheism" in general
, but then have proceeded in the actual debate to argue from the assumption of the non-existence of God. That assumption, though, is a positive assumption, and therefore, they are actually begging the question.
And as an aside, before we lean on Flew's brilliance to accept his redefinition, let's note that Flew did not read Greek and, in fact, admitted in his later years that he had not read Aristotle. That fact alone ought to give anyone pause before they consider whether or not his arguments for atheism or against theism are at all worth considering, since he basically ignored the intellectual basis on which theism was built! But, that leads us to consider the second problem with Lunalle's argument, namely, the way Greek grammar actually works.
2. Lingustically, Lunalle is even more absurd. He writes:
Position. This is a very basic concept, that apparently a lot of religious folks have a huge problem with.
http://oxforddictionaries.com/definitio ... ?q=atheism
from Greek atheos, from a- 'without' + theos 'god'
Like cold is nothing more than the lack of heat, atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in god(s). It is not a belief.
-1 (lack of belief) = -1 (lack of belief) NOT 1 (belief)
Hope this helps clear up the confusion.
There are two errors. The first is strictly linguistic, the second is etymological. Starting with the latter, even if we granted Lunalle his claim (and we shouldn't, because it is wrong), it does not follow that because the parts of a word mean this, therefore, the word itself means this. That's called the etymological fallacy. Since I teach apologetics, I'll use an example close to my own heart. The word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word apologia
, which is a combination of two words: apo
(meaning, in the genitive, "out of," among other things), and logos
(meaning, among other things, "word" or "reason."). The etymological notion of the word, then, is "coming out of reason." The word was used to refer to a legal or philosophical defense--in fact, the New Testament uses the word in just that way, as to apologists today. Of course, the word "apology" doesn't mean that all in general! When I mistreat my wife and I offer her an apology, the last
thing I am doing is giving her a legal defense. On the contrary, I'm doing exactly the opposite: I'm saying that I have no defense and that I am simply wrong.
And so it is in all cases of the etymological fallacy. One of the WORST things we can do as philosophers or biblical exegetes is do word studies apart from context and conclude what the meaning of the word must be based on its history. For those interested in more on this, I would very highly recommend Moises Silva's The Meaning of Biblical Words
. He has an entire section dedicated especially to this issue.
Moving on . . .
So, off the bat, we see that Lunalle's basic argument is just fallacious from the get go. But even better, his basic argument is wrong. It is not true that a
is a 'negation' and theos
is "god" and therefore "atheism" is just "a lack of belief in god." There are several reasons for this:
A. We can say that the Greek particle a
had the function of negation only if we are speaking loosely. Take the Greek word apistos
(as in John 20:27). So we have the particle a
and the word pistos
, which is an adjective meaning "faithful." On Lunalle's misunderstanding of Greek grammar, the word would simply mean "lacking faith." But, in fact, apistos
does not mean "lacking faith." It means "disloyal," and a proper translation of John 20:27b would be, "Do not be disloyal, but believe!" (For a detailed study of this word, see Stan Harstinen, "Un-doubting Thomas: Recognition Scenes in the Ancient World," Perspectives in Religious
Studies 33, no. 4 (December 1, 2006): 445-46.)
B. The actual function of a
, which is not identical to negation. That is, it "gives a negative sense to the word to which it is prefixed, as in abares
; or signifying what is contrary to it, as in atimos
." We see that clearly enough in apistos
above--the word doesn't just signify a lack of faithfulness, but, in fact, disloyalty
. But lets also look at atimos
as another example. It occurs, for instance, in 1 Cor 4:10. There Paul writes, "We are fools for Christ, but you are men of wisdom in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored [atimos
]!" Here we have three opposites set beside each other: Fools vs. men of wisdom; weak vs. strong; distinguished vs. dishonored. It would make a mockery of the text to simply read atimos
as "without honor." In fact, Paul and his colleagues were being "despised" (as per the KJV)--they did not simply lack
honor; they were atimos
--the OPPOSITE of timos
(honor). The opposite of honor is dishonor, which is what they suffered.
I could go on and on, but the point here should be clear enough. To add the prefix a
to a word doesn't just mean it is a lack of the thing prefixed to, but its opposite
. If we go by etymology, THAT is what the word actually means.
C. And all of this leads us to the third problem with Lunalle's argument. Even IF a
just implied a lack (which we have seen is not the case), then Lunalle would STILL be wrong. His own dictionary shows the lunacy of his position. The word in question is NOT "atheos," but atheism
. Now, still tracking his absurd etymological reasoning, '-ism' is a suffix attached to Greek words to turn verbs into nouns (so baptizo
("to wash") becomes "baptism"), and further, to express devotion
to a particular idea (so intellectuals follow intellectualism).
Etymologically, then, modern so-called "atheists" don't even understand their own term "atheism." They want us to believe that the word should actually be parsed 'a-the[os]-ism.' But in the first place, even on that parsing, the word would not mean "a lack of belief in God or gods," but rather, "Devotion to the non-existence of God." That, of course, is what "atheist" has always meant and what it still means, their silly objections notwithstanding. But second, that's not even the right parsing, and it's evident in their own arguments. Lunalle doesn't say that an atheist is one who lacks God, but one who lacks a belief in
God. But the "belief in" comes from 'ism,' not 'the[os].' Here, he is correct, for the correct parsing is would be 'a-theism.' Again, though, this would not be "a lack of God," but rather now, "a devotion to the denial of God's existence" (that is, the opposite (not merely lack) of theism). So in any number of ways, as usual, our poor ignorant atheist friend here doesn't understand what he is talking about.
I'll close on a final note between the difference in atheism and agnosticism, as that further illustrates Lunalle's misunderstanding of the terms in question and how Greek grammar words. An "agnostic" is one who does not know whether or not God exists, of course. The Greek word in question is gnosis
, which means "knowledge" (more specifically, it's actually gnosos
, a adjective meaning "known"). Agnosis
, then, is not merely a lack of knowledge (it is at least that); it is the opposite of knowledge. It is necessary ignorance. In Greek literature, an agnostic was one who believed that something could not be known
(so, Socrates was agnostic about immortality).
In closing, theists believe God exists.
Atheists believe God does not exist.
Agnostics believe that it is impossible to know whether or not God exists.
A person who doesn't know--who just lacks a particular belief in a particular god or gods--is not an atheist. They just don't know whether or not said god or gods exists. As an aside, this is why the first Christians were called atheists. They didn't just lack a belief in Zeus' existence. They were atheistic
about him. They were devoted to the notion that he did NOT exist.
And given all of the above, I'll just repeat what I said on the first page:
I find that, in practice, most of these weak atheists are really just strong atheists who think they have found a rhetorical ploy by which they can shift the burden of proof to the theist and ignore justifying their own position. It's an incredibly dishonest position and, frankly, cowardly. But, it is what it is. We can either respond by having the tired debate over the definition of atheism, or we can accept their lack-of-a-position for argument's sake and press on with our own case, and when their responses presume God's non-existence (as they always do, since these people always really DO have a belief, even if they aren't willing to admit it), just call them out on it and ask for evidence for their assumption while pointing out that they've changed their position and have in the process adopted a true belief.