It is amusing to watch Christians disagree with atheists about the definition of common words. We have seen many times how they spar over the definition of 'faith', with Christians insisting on a definition that is not found in any ordinary dictionary. And we also see the same kind of battle over the definition of 'atheist'. Both of these words are found in common usage, so they are not considered to be technical terms that are understood only by people in certain academic or professional circles. However, Christians prefer to use these words in a non-standard way that carries different meaning - one that fits their own agenda.
The agenda of Christian apologists is to create a narrative that attempts to make Christians out to be rational and well-reasoned, while atheists are depicted as irrational and unreasonable. The battle over this narrative plays out in the way words are used and understood. If you can change the way people think about a word like 'faith', you can remove any hint of a lack of epistemic justification that might be conveyed by the normal dictionary definition of the word. This battle has been ongoing for some time. I first discussed the topic in a post about the debate between McGrew and Boghossian, where I noted that even the bible uses the word in a sense that better fits with the dictionary definition, and that the Catholic Catechism clearly places faith above reason.
But that doesn't fit the Christian narrative of the apologists, which says that faith is based on evidence, and thus it is firmly founded on reason. Some apologists even go so far as to advocate that the rest of us shouldn't be allowed to use the word in a sense that fits the dictionary definition. See the quotation from Joe Hinman in my article On the Meaning of Faith:
There's another reason not to let them use Wesbter's, not at all. That's because it's only indicative of popular use and not theological teaching. Because they don't use a technological dictionary atheists make a straw man argument. They are not dealing with the way the teaching authority of Christian theology uses the term "faith." They are only reflecting the general conception, or misconception of faith, apart from Christian teaching. The whole idea of their argument is that Christian teaching accepts faith as belief with no evidence, when in reality there is no such dictum in any Christian teaching.This is rather like the agenda of anti-abortionists, who want to change the language we use about the issue of abortion to make it seem as if a fetus is an actual person who has all the rights of any adult. This is an Orwellian method to steering and controlling the way people think about a topic. It's not a fetus - it's a baby. And faith is not belief without epistemic justification - it's belief based on reason and evidence. Pay no attention to the dictionary. We'll tell you how to use the language, and in doing so, we'll change the way you think to fit our narrative. This appears to be the agenda of the modern apologist.
And so too, with the definition of 'atheist'. One might think that the Christian apologists would be willing to allow atheists to use a term that refers to themselves in a manner that reflects what it actually means be be an atheist. But not so. They want to control the narrative, which makes the atheist out to be irrational and unreasonable. And they accomplish that by changing the way we think of the term 'atheist'. This is seen in the WL Craig's attempt to re-define the word, which he discusses here. Craig denies the standard dictionary definition, which is a lack of belief in gods. He says:
I think it is very popular on the lay level because it exonerates the unbeliever from having to give any defense of his viewpoint.Craig would rather define atheism as a positive belief, or denial of the existence of God, that must be defended. Right away, he has managed to turn the tables to make atheists out to be unreasonable. Of course, this is only possible by denying the philosophical basis for having a lack of belief. To the empiricist, beliefs should be epistemically justified, and evidence is the basis of epistemic justification. So to say that one lacks belief is just an admission that one lacks evidence to believe. This is a perfectly respectable and well-justified philosophical position. It's why we don't believe in fairies and all manner of other things that don't actually exist.
But Craig wants to remove atheists' rational basis for disbelief by re-defining the word as a positive belief and then claiming that belief must be defended. This fits the Christian narrative in two different ways: One is to make atheists seem irrational for holding a belief that isn't justified. The other, which lurks just beneath the surface, is to vilify them as God-haters, who deny His existence. This part of the narrative isn't expressly stated by Craig, but his re-definition of atheism fits neatly with it. You can't be seen as a God-hater for simply lacking belief, but you can if you actively deny God's existence. So Craig is lending credence to the narrative. And this sits well with the apologists' agenda, while at the same time, placing atheists on the defensive.
No wonder we see so many mindless Christian minions chanting their leaders' party line. Like Stan at Atheism Analyzed, who says: "Atheists have an obligation to give reasons in the form of logic and evidence for rejecting Theist theories." Their thinking has been molded and shaped by the Orwellian use of language. In their world, blind faith is defined as evidence-based, atheism is defined as religion, superstition is defined as reason, and scientific thinking is defined as irrational. They have come to believe their own narrative. They desperately want the rest of us to buy it, too.