Debating with people online, particularly over Atheism, can yield some... interesting results. Not just debates with Theists, either, but also with fellow Atheists. There are those who simply don't understand the term on both sides. It certainly makes it hard to maintain an identity when so many others are shrouding that identity in misinformation. In an attempt to shed some light on the true meaning of Atheism, I'm going to be answering a question pointed at fellow Atheists.
"Are rocks, animals, and babies Atheists?"
It's a three part question for a reason. All three must be addressed individually in order to properly answer this question and every other form of it.
This question, and the related misconception, actually stems from what I have been using as the definition for Atheism, a lack of belief in deities. People have said on both sides that rocks, animals, and babies all lack that belief, so they must be Atheists, too. However, this is simply not accurate. Let's start with the rock.
Rocks are not Atheists.
While it is true that they lack a belief in anything at all, let alone deities, they also cannot believe in any way. They are not living things. In order to be described as having a lack of belief, there must be a point in time where one could potentially carry that belief. If that situation is impossible, then the opposite is also impossible. So, all non-thinking things cannot be Atheists.
Animals are not Atheists.
Some of them can hold beliefs, this is true, especially the more intelligent ones. That's not the problem in this case. however, there is an additional problem that also falls back to the previously mentioned rocks. In order to be an Atheist, you must aslo be a person. The -ism and -ist suffix sets Atheism and Atheist as being personal traits. Personal, meaning for people only. If the animal in question isn't a person, they cannot be an Atheist, regardless how much belief they lack. The same goes for rocks. Rocks are not people.
Babies are Atheists.
Surprised? Don't be. Babies fit the description. Babies are people. When they become people is still up for debate, but no one denies that babies are people. At the moment you are born, you are an Atheist. There is no getting around that. If you want your child to believe in something, you have to teach it to them. They have no idea what a belief even is, let alone how to hold one. However, because of their ability to learn what a belief is and hold beliefs later on, they are able to be either Theist and Atheist. And, since they do not start with any knowledge, they do not start with any beliefs, making them Atheists.
So, as I have said, only people can be Atheists. Rocks are out. Other animals are out. The only animal able to have the personal trait of lacking belief is homo sapien, human. With this in mind, I would like to ask all Theists and Atheists to stop spreading this misconception. It's just making the debates take longer as we have to get all of the junk out of the way.