A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
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12-02-2016, 03:35 PM (This post was last modified: 12-02-2016 03:40 PM by Glossophile.)
A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
Theists often define atheism as the definite claim that there is no god. Most atheists routinely correct them by stating that it is the lack of belief that there is a god, which in turn tends to be re-labeled "agnosticism" in popular parlance. It can be hard for many to understand the difference between these two definitions, but an example from linguistics might offer one or possible way to at least attempt to make the point.

In linguistics, there is something in syntax and morphology (i.e. how words are formed from roots and affixes) called "structural ambiguity." The classic example of this is the English word "unlockable." Does it mean "unable to be locked" or "able to be unlocked"? As it turns out, the meaning depends on which of two possible hierarchical structures the word has in any given instantiation.

We have the prefix "un-," the root "lock," and the suffix "-able." The order in which the affixes attach to the root as the word comes together in the speaker's mind makes the difference. If, for instance, the prefix attaches first, then the verb "unlock" is formed, to which the suffix "-able" then attaches to form a word meaning "able to be unlocked. If, on the other hand, the suffix is attached first, then the prefix attaches to the already formed adjective "lockable" to form a word that means "unable to be locked."

We can perhaps visualize this better with brackets. The structure [[unlock]able] means "able to be unlocked," while [un[lockable]] means "unable to be locked."

Now, we can similarly break up the word "atheism" into the following components:

prefix "a-" = no/none/not
root "-the-" = god/goddess/deity
suffix "-ism" = belief/ideology/creed

Hence...

[[athe]ism] = [[no god] belief] = belief that there is no god
[a[theism]] = [no [god belief]] = lack of belief that there is a god

The popular mistake is to assume the first structure when in fact most atheists define their stance as better reflected by the second structure. This misconception is thus analogous to interpreting "unlockable" to mean "able to be unlocked" when in fact the speaker meant "able to be unlocked. Ordinarily, either context will make it clear which underlying structure is intended, or the speaker will clarify it explicitly. The problem is that we've clarified this matter repeatedly, and either through genuine ignorance or outright deceptiveness, it goes largely unacknowledged. Is it possible that the analogy with "unlockable" might help those that genuinely don't understand to finally get it?

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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12-02-2016, 03:47 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
Yes, if you can be precise with your definitions it always helps to facilitate better understanding, but usually what we see around here is a lot more course than simple definitional clarification:

From God

Gods derive their power from post-hoc rationalizations. -The Inquisition

Using the supernatural to explain events in your life is a failure of the intellect to comprehend the world around you. -The Inquisition
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12-02-2016, 03:53 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
I don't think there is so often a lack of understanding based on the terminology or idea of what the word means.

It's not that they don't get it, at times it is they don't want to accept or grant the idea of being equatable to being passive in the view of a God.

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12-02-2016, 04:17 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
^ Yeah, agnostic atheism doesn't really fit with the popular narrative of "If you don't love God, then you must hate God."

If we came from dust, then why is there still dust?
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12-02-2016, 04:19 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
Which god are you guys talking about?

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12-02-2016, 04:24 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
Vishnu, clearly. Who else?

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12-02-2016, 04:33 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
(12-02-2016 04:24 PM)cactus Wrote:  Vishnu, clearly. Who else?

Who else? Why not Obatala?
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12-02-2016, 04:44 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
(12-02-2016 03:35 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  Theists often define atheism as the definite claim that there is no god. Most atheists routinely correct them by stating that it is the lack of belief that there is a god, which in turn tends to be re-labeled "agnosticism" in popular parlance. It can be hard for many to understand the difference between these two definitions, but an example from linguistics might offer one or possible way to at least attempt to make the point.

In linguistics, there is something in syntax and morphology (i.e. how words are formed from roots and affixes) called "structural ambiguity." The classic example of this is the English word "unlockable." Does it mean "unable to be locked" or "able to be unlocked"? As it turns out, the meaning depends on which of two possible hierarchical structures the word has in any given instantiation.

We have the prefix "un-," the root "lock," and the suffix "-able." The order in which the affixes attach to the root as the word comes together in the speaker's mind makes the difference. If, for instance, the prefix attaches first, then the verb "unlock" is formed, to which the suffix "-able" then attaches to form a word meaning "able to be unlocked. If, on the other hand, the suffix is attached first, then the prefix attaches to the already formed adjective "lockable" to form a word that means "unable to be locked."

We can perhaps visualize this better with brackets. The structure [[unlock]able] means "able to be unlocked," while [un[lockable]] means "unable to be locked."

Now, we can similarly break up the word "atheism" into the following components:

prefix "a-" = no/none/not
root "-the-" = god/goddess/deity
suffix "-ism" = belief/ideology/creed

Hence...

[[athe]ism] = [[no god] belief] = belief that there is no god
[a[theism]] = [no [god belief]] = lack of belief that there is a god

The popular mistake is to assume the first structure when in fact most atheists define their stance as better reflected by the second structure. This misconception is thus analogous to interpreting "unlockable" to mean "able to be unlocked" when in fact the speaker meant "able to be unlocked. Ordinarily, either context will make it clear which underlying structure is intended, or the speaker will clarify it explicitly. The problem is that we've clarified this matter repeatedly, and either through genuine ignorance or outright deceptiveness, it goes largely unacknowledged. Is it possible that the analogy with "unlockable" might help those that genuinely don't understand to finally get it?

Basically those who don't "get it" don't wanna get it. They are the same folks who ask "If people came from monkeys why are there still monkeys?"
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12-02-2016, 05:16 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
(12-02-2016 03:35 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  Theists often define atheism as the definite claim that there is no god. Most atheists routinely correct them by stating that it is the lack of belief that there is a god, which in turn tends to be re-labeled "agnosticism" in popular parlance. It can be hard for many to understand the difference between these two definitions, but an example from linguistics might offer one or possible way to at least attempt to make the point.

In linguistics, there is something in syntax and morphology (i.e. how words are formed from roots and affixes) called "structural ambiguity." The classic example of this is the English word "unlockable." Does it mean "unable to be locked" or "able to be unlocked"? As it turns out, the meaning depends on which of two possible hierarchical structures the word has in any given instantiation.

We have the prefix "un-," the root "lock," and the suffix "-able." The order in which the affixes attach to the root as the word comes together in the speaker's mind makes the difference. If, for instance, the prefix attaches first, then the verb "unlock" is formed, to which the suffix "-able" then attaches to form a word meaning "able to be unlocked. If, on the other hand, the suffix is attached first, then the prefix attaches to the already formed adjective "lockable" to form a word that means "unable to be locked."

We can perhaps visualize this better with brackets. The structure [[unlock]able] means "able to be unlocked," while [un[lockable]] means "unable to be locked."

Now, we can similarly break up the word "atheism" into the following components:

prefix "a-" = no/none/not
root "-the-" = god/goddess/deity
suffix "-ism" = belief/ideology/creed

Hence...

[[athe]ism] = [[no god] belief] = belief that there is no god
[a[theism]] = [no [god belief]] = lack of belief that there is a god

The popular mistake is to assume the first structure when in fact most atheists define their stance as better reflected by the second structure. This misconception is thus analogous to interpreting "unlockable" to mean "able to be unlocked" when in fact the speaker meant "able to be unlocked. Ordinarily, either context will make it clear which underlying structure is intended, or the speaker will clarify it explicitly. The problem is that we've clarified this matter repeatedly, and either through genuine ignorance or outright deceptiveness, it goes largely unacknowledged. Is it possible that the analogy with "unlockable" might help those that genuinely don't understand to finally get it?

Most of the time I think their "confusion" is just a cover for trying to shift the burden of proof onto the atheist, as if there is any obligation to prove that the non-existent doesn't exist. It's such a simple concept that I can't believe that many don't understand it. I am a strong atheist, but I'm quick to point out that the vast majority of atheists aren't in my dealings with theists. I don't speak for anyone but myself.

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12-02-2016, 05:27 PM
RE: A Linguist's Take on Hard vs Soft Atheism
(12-02-2016 05:16 PM)true scotsman Wrote:  
(12-02-2016 03:35 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  Theists often define atheism as the definite claim that there is no god. Most atheists routinely correct them by stating that it is the lack of belief that there is a god, which in turn tends to be re-labeled "agnosticism" in popular parlance. It can be hard for many to understand the difference between these two definitions, but an example from linguistics might offer one or possible way to at least attempt to make the point.

In linguistics, there is something in syntax and morphology (i.e. how words are formed from roots and affixes) called "structural ambiguity." The classic example of this is the English word "unlockable." Does it mean "unable to be locked" or "able to be unlocked"? As it turns out, the meaning depends on which of two possible hierarchical structures the word has in any given instantiation.

We have the prefix "un-," the root "lock," and the suffix "-able." The order in which the affixes attach to the root as the word comes together in the speaker's mind makes the difference. If, for instance, the prefix attaches first, then the verb "unlock" is formed, to which the suffix "-able" then attaches to form a word meaning "able to be unlocked. If, on the other hand, the suffix is attached first, then the prefix attaches to the already formed adjective "lockable" to form a word that means "unable to be locked."

We can perhaps visualize this better with brackets. The structure [[unlock]able] means "able to be unlocked," while [un[lockable]] means "unable to be locked."

Now, we can similarly break up the word "atheism" into the following components:

prefix "a-" = no/none/not
root "-the-" = god/goddess/deity
suffix "-ism" = belief/ideology/creed

Hence...

[[athe]ism] = [[no god] belief] = belief that there is no god
[a[theism]] = [no [god belief]] = lack of belief that there is a god

The popular mistake is to assume the first structure when in fact most atheists define their stance as better reflected by the second structure. This misconception is thus analogous to interpreting "unlockable" to mean "able to be unlocked" when in fact the speaker meant "able to be unlocked. Ordinarily, either context will make it clear which underlying structure is intended, or the speaker will clarify it explicitly. The problem is that we've clarified this matter repeatedly, and either through genuine ignorance or outright deceptiveness, it goes largely unacknowledged. Is it possible that the analogy with "unlockable" might help those that genuinely don't understand to finally get it?

Most of the time I think their "confusion" is just a cover for trying to shift the burden of proof onto the atheist, as if there is any obligation to prove that the non-existent doesn't exist. It's such a simple concept that I can't believe that many don't understand it. I am a strong atheist, but I'm quick to point out that the vast majority of atheists aren't in my dealings with theists. I don't speak for anyone but myself.

We see false dichotomies from theists all the time. They present "either/or" choices that simply ignore complexity or shading.

It is no surprise to me that they assert that we must be claiming that their god doesn't exist if we don't share their belief that it does.

Frustrating, but no longer surprising. Drinking Beverage

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