Tag Archives: lack belief

The Atheist Dogma

pope-dawkinsOverwhelmingly, the most common defense of atheism is the (false) claim that atheism need not be defended at all. It is confidently stated that atheism is simply a “lack of belief in any gods”, as opposed to the belief that God does not exist. It is then said that one need not defend a simple lack of belief.

And, personally, I agree on that last point. A lack of belief need not be defended. But there are two very serious problems with the logic of this approach.

First is the reason why no defense is needed. It is not because atheism is somehow true by default. Rather, it is because (by this rather questionable definition) it is simply not a position at all. Anyone who isn’t claiming the non-existence of God, but simply lacks belief, isn’t advancing inquiry–or saying anything at all. Rather, this is simply an attempt to halt any attempt to discover what the truth might be.

Second is the fact that those who take this approach, just as much as the rest of us, have working answers to life’s big questions. Redefining atheism to mean “a lack of belief” doesn’t change this fact. Really, it simply insulates the atheist’s position from challenges.

Nearly always, the hidden position is materialism: the belief that matter and energy are all that exist. So, if the atheist wants to refute theism, he has to do more than attack theism (or, as is very often done, a horribly distorted straw man version of theism). We need a reason to think that materialism (or some other position) is more likely to be the case.

But, often as not, I encounter “refutations” of theism that would do as much damage to materialism. The “no evidence for God” argument is merely the prime example. While there is evidence for God, the point is that I’ve never encountered anyone who uses this (poor) argument that can offer evidence for materialism when asked for it.

As such, I hope it is becoming clear to more people why claiming to simply “lack belief” is (whether intentionally or unwittingly) an attempt to stack the deck in favor of the atheist. It halts inquiry instead of advancing it.

By all means, let us discuss whether or not it is more reasonable to think that God exists, or that the materialism of atheists popularizers is valid. But let’s examine both of these ideas, rather than pretending that the latter is somehow immune to being questioned or challenged.

That is, after all, just another form of dogmatism.

New Atheism’s New Position?

changed-mindThere seems to have been a clear reduction in the severity of the New Atheist position. Not that I miss them, but I’ve wondered what happened to the bold, sweeping, unqualified claims about the unparalleled evils of religion. Whatever happened to the smug comments about how every person of any intelligence rejects God? They can be found, for sure, but do seem to be a quickly dying fad.

I’ve been told that all the earlier statements to these effects were never really meant to communicate this attitude, that theists have grossly exaggerated what the New Atheists have been claiming. If so, I can only reply that it was easy to do, given the words that were being used.

But, I’ve noticed that this seems to fit the group’s pattern of refusing to make or support claims. It almost seems to be a defining characteristic of the New Atheists that they can be counted on to deny making a claim rather than defend a position.

I’ve been told that Hitchens’ comments about Stalin were never meant to imply that his movement was religious, that Dawkins’ statements about the God of the Bible were not meant to refer to the God believed in by all Christians, but only some, and that Harris’ statements that it is sometimes ethical to kill people for their beliefs is not connected to his suggestion that the United States drop nuclear bombs on Muslim nations.

Obviously, I find these claims dubious, but that is not the point. Rather, I wonder what is left of the New Atheist platform when all these retractions (or, if you’d prefer, “clarifications”) are made. It seems to me that they are not making any of the claims that got them attention in the first place.

Instead, their position seems to be this:
1. They don’t believe in God, but wouldn’t say that he doesn’t exist
2. They don’t claim that society would be better if it were filled with atheists, but simply that religion can’t automatically be assumed to aid society.
3. They don’t claim that religious people are statistically any more violent than atheists.
4. They don’t claim that belief in God requires rejection of evolution.

So far, this hasn’t quite blown my socks off. After all the bombast, all the screaming, billboards, sacrilegious comments, mockery, and moral posturing, is this what we are left with? It really doesn’t seem any stronger a position than would be taken by the agnostics of a generation ago. In fact, if one removed “don’t believe in God” from the first item, this could describe my own position.

I’m not sure that there’s ever been a more horribly disappointing platform than this. I appreciate that these people are trying to be more reasonable, and try to be grateful for the change, but the degree of self-righteousness I’ve seen over a set of ideas which haven’t held up even to simple challenges leads me to wonder why these people are still passionate about atheism at all. Yes, the question of God is a live one, but it seems clear that this group can offer nothing in support of their philosophical assumptions at all like the evidence it insists of others.

Isn’t that, itself, a reason for them to seriously reconsider their basic position?

(Not) Debating God’s Existence

After a long period of attempting to debate the question of God’s existence on the internet, I made a rule for myself to interact only with those who actually take a position on the subject.
I had no idea, at the time, that this would exclude the overwhelming majority of self-styled atheists on the web.

While I’ll stress that this does not apply to all atheists, the average atheist I’ve encountered will answer the question “does God exist?” with “I lack belief in God”. It seems to escape many such people that this is not an answer, but an off-topic remark about their personal beliefs. “Yes”, “No”, “Probably”, and “I don’t know” are all answers. “I lack belief” is not.

To anyone who understands the discussion, this is a point of no small concern. To refuse to take a position on the basic question is to refuse to discuss the topic. Any comments about a lack of evidence (beyond the points in another post) are simply not driving toward any relevant point.

In my mind, this is not skepticism so much as dismissing the question. But, the moment I ask myself why so many would do this, I come back to an long-standing concern. It seems that this movement is all about winning arguments, rather than seeking truth.

Saying “I lack belief” requires no defense whatsoever. One can constantly challenge any position, without having to present a case at all, let alone a good case, so long as one simply “lacks belief”. It is only the person who actually wants to answer the question at hand that will be frustrated by this.

And that is me.

At least, it was until I lost interest in such interchanges. I have reasons for what I believe. These may not be convincing to all people, but an off-topic comment cannot, in any remotely logical way, be a better approach to life than those reasons.

As such, I’ve come to respect she who claims that God does not exist, and attempts to offer reasons for that, far more than she who simply avoids answering the question while attacking the answers others have given.

History is full of critics who only have complaints to offer. Each of us, whatever we believe, should be very careful to avoid becoming one of them.