Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Atheism isn't True

I've been blogging for over a year now, and those of you who have been following along with me know how I've been coming to terms with my own de-conversion from Christian faith, as well as my eventual acceptance of the label "atheist," so this may come as a surprise to you. Shocking though it may be, I have to admit: atheism isn't true.

No, I'm not relapsing into religion. ;-)

Technically, no "ism" is true. By "ism" I mean a philosophical, political, psychological, religious and/or moral belief system. I should note that not all "isms" end with the suffix "ism," such as Christianity (I only mention this because I'm sure some smart ass will bring it up if I don't). The system itself, whether it's Buddhism, deism, determinism, egalitarianism, utilitarianism, et cetera, contains a set of tenets or beliefs, and it's those tenets (or propositions, or truth claims) that are either true or false. We can't call a system "true" any more than we can call a book or blog "true." In either case, it's the propositions within the system (or book, or blog) that can rightly be valued as "true" or "false." [for further reading, click here]

So when I raised questions concerning whether Christianity is true, I was just using "shorthand." Had I been more concerned about being technical, I would have questioned whether the tenets of Christianity are true.

Atheism is different. Other "isms" have positive tenets; i.e., "X is true/right/good." Atheism, on the other hand, is a negation. "A" = "no" or "a lack of." And while some who call themselves "atheists" have a positive belief that "there is no god" (commonly referred to as "strong" atheism), a lot of atheists - myself included - simply have a lack of belief. So it's not simply the case that atheism isn't true because "isms" aren't true by definition; atheism isn't "true" in that it isn't making any truth claims vis-à-vis god or gods, and if there are no claims being made, there's nothing that can be either true or false.

The one common factor amongst those who call themselves "atheists" is that their current view of the world and daily living practices lack the acknowledgment of an entity one would call "god." This isn't a tenet, maxim or doctrine, because no truth claim is being made.

In other words, atheism isn't an "ism" (say that five times real fast). It's not a belief system like Christianity or an attempt to interpret the world like objectivism. Atheism is a message to all the "ists" who come proclaiming the good news of their preferred "isms" that says: "Hey, give me good reason to believe in your god, and I'll believe. Until you can do that, don't bother me."

Matt Slick, president and founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (, remarks in a paper titled, "What is Atheism?" that he has "encountered many atheists who claim that atheism is not a belief system, while others say it is." Naturally, the "strong" atheist who says definitely that there is no god might say her brand of atheism is indeed a belief system, but even then it's an "ism" with only one tenet: There is no god.

Slick then presents a list of "basic principles that atheists, as a whole, tend to adopt," although he admits that "not all atheists accept all of these tenets":

1. There is no God or devil.
2. There is no supernatural realm.
3. Miracles cannot occur.
4. There is no such thing as sin as a violation of God's will.
5. Generally, the universe is materialistic and measurable.
6. Man is material.
7. Generally, evolution is considered a scientific fact.
8. Ethics and morals are relative.

He's right: generally, those who wear the label "atheist" tend to agree with these propositions. At the very least, many atheists doubt that the converse of most of these claims is true. Personally, I don't deny that there might be a supernatural aspect to the universe. I honestly don't know. I'm not bound by an "ism" that mandates I disbelieve in anything supernatural.

These "tenets" are in reality Matt Slick's way of explaining to the sheep how unchristian atheists are, and how "atheism clashes with many aspects" of the Christian faith. But none of these (with the exception of a few in the case of "strong" atheism) are fundamental to any "ism" of atheism.

If Matt Slick wants to make a list of some "basic principles that atheists, as a whole, tend to adopt," how about these:

1. One should seek truth.
2. Blind acceptance of dogma is irresponsible.
3. Humans should be kind to each other, and work toward maintaining a peaceful society.
4. One should rely on reason, and train oneself to think critically and logically.
5. Discrimination against someone based on one's race, gender, age, religion, place of origin or sexual orientation is wrong.
6. Science should be encouraged and promoted.
7. One should take responsibility for her own actions.
8. Evolution is just a theory, like gravity.

I'm just throwing these out there for folks to think about. Naturally, none of these are formal tenets of atheism, but it's true nonetheless that most people who bother to wear the label "atheist" adhere to such virtues.

I received comments from someone who goes by the name "Blue Devil Knight" in response to the conclusion to my Journey to Atheism series. He wrote:

Do you really just have a lack of belief in gods, say the way some Native American who never heard of Christ lacked belief in Christ? It seems you have many positive beliefs. You believe that the evidence for God is not compelling, which makes you more likely to think He does not exist.

Hence, to just say you 'lack belief' seems completely unbelievable to me. Especially given that you have five posts titled 'Journey to Atheism', it seems you have thought about the issues, and have more beliefs, than many theists.

He asks a good question: do I really not have an opinion about the existence of god? Of course I do. But Blue Devil Knight's comments - particularly where he says, "You believe that the evidence for God is not compelling, which makes you more likely to think He does not exist" - reflect - at least implicitly - a presumption along the lines of Pascal's Wager False Dichotomy. Either I believe in God with a capital G or I disbelieve in him. The problem is that my atheism isn't simply a lack of belief in just Yahweh. I have no belief about god, gods, or anything that could rightly be called "deity." It's not simply the case that I don't have a belief about your God only.

Sure, I have some doubts about the concept of god as described in the Abrahamic religions, just as I have doubts that Zeus, Thor, or Huitzilopochtli exist. I've heard a lot of talk about God - I was a minister, so I talked a lot about this God myself - and the more I heard, the more I questioned. Eventually I had to step away from the faith in order to maintain intellectual integrity. So yeah, I have some thoughts about God. I'm not a blank slate that's never had any interaction with anyone claiming to be speaking on behalf of deity.

I'm an atheist because I have no reason to believe that any concept of god (that I've heard) accurately describes an actual entity in, around or above our universe. I don't deny that such an entity exists; I mean to say, I don't disbelieve it. Until I have sufficient evidence to warrant belief that such an entity does not exist, I won't deny the existence of such a being. I just don't believe it either. I lack belief in god. Give me good reason to believe in your god, and I'll believe. Until you can do that, don't bother me.

1 comment:

Mike D said...

How dare ye!

I really dig your 10 tenets. And I can't help but be greatly annoyed whenever I hear a theist raise the false dichotomy between divine moral absolutes and relativistic moral nihilism. Someone call Frans De Waal!