Atheism 101

In response to Bro718 and his views on atheism as “belief in a non-belief” and why he sees it as a religion AngieAntiTheist tries to answer his questions like:

* How do you define religion?
* What do you mean people are “born” atheists?
* What are the foundations of atheism?
* How did atheism start?
* Who started atheism?

Let’s see if Angie can set the record straight on why these are the wrong questions to ask.

Find his video HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0aPZT…

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About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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12 Responses to Atheism 101

  1. writerdood says:

    I understand where she’s coming from, and a lot of what she’s saying makes perfect sense, but I don’t necessarily agree that the absence of religion is atheism, but rather a complete state of open mindedness in which you are willing to believe in God – if someone will simply provide you with some evidence. In the absence of that evidence, you would not say “there is no God” but rather, there is no reason for me to believe in a God.

    This is sort of where I stand. I guess maybe it’s my own religion if no one else has it. People seem to think things need to be black and white, but they don’t. You don’t have to eliminate possibilities for lack of evidence, (depending on the possibility you’re talking about). So I’m an “I Don’t Knowist.” That’s sort of where I have to stand. And that’s what I can an absence of belief.

    By ruling out the existence of God, you have taken a stand on something. And if you take a stand, one way or the other, than you believe in something. Do you have to believe that there is no God? You see, this is where I run into trouble with atheism, because I don’t believe that. I just haven’t been presented with any evidence. I don’t believe or disbelieve. What does that make me? I’m not really apathetic, because I kind of am searching for an answer to the existence of God, but that answer must satisfy my own criteria, and I require some form of indisputable empirical physical evidence.

    Is belief in nothing the same as disbelief in what is? Where does open mindedness fit in?

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Well I do have one small issue and that is the idea of religion and belief in god being the same thing…

      Each time she refers to lack of religion I would have rephrased it as lack of belief in a god or gods… I know a number of people who are not religious, and yet still believe in a god or gods.

      That said, I think her points are spot on…

      – Atheism IS the default position
      – Theism (or even deism) should not be assumed without evidence
      – The burden of proof for that evidence resides with those who claim theism or deism
      – Atheism is NOT a belief itself
      – In fact, atheism is nothing more and nothing less than simply a lack of belief in a god or gods
      I made many of these same points here previously: https://potomac9499.wordpress.com/2008/08/05/is-atheism-a-religionfaithbelief-systemetc/

      The point I don’t think I had covered well enough previously, and that she makes is that while atheism is the default, and it is the position I take, if the evidence were strong enough, I’d gladly change my mind.
      And I think that answers your final question.
      I am OPEN to changing my mind
      I am OPEN to evidence of a god or gods

      But I’ve never seen that evidence, and therefor, I am sticking with the default position (i.e. atheism)

      Personally I have looked for evidence, and it has lead me to the position I hold now, which is atheism. Not that my atheism is a 100% certainty, in fact I’ve said before EXACTLY what I mean when I refer to my own personal atheism:
      https://potomac9499.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-god-does-or-does-not-exist/

      I don’t think that this stance “rules out” any possibility of a god or gods, and I don’t know of any atheist who DO rule out the possibility (even Richard Dawkins admits there is a possibility of a god or gods), it’s just that we put the likelihood based on the current evidence as so low as to live our lives as if there is no god or gods, at least until further evidence comes to light…

      • writerdood says:

        I don’t think that this stance “rules out” any possibility of a god or gods, and I don’t know of any atheist who DO rule out the possibility (even Richard Dawkins admits there is a possibility of a god or gods), it’s just that we put the likelihood based on the current evidence as so low as to live our lives as if there is no god or gods, at least until further evidence comes to light…

        I think this stance is the part that puts atheism out of the religious definition. When was the last time you saw a religion say, “This is how it is, unless we’re wrong?” A religion can’t be wrong. All religions have to have a discrete set of core rules that are required in order to be a part of that religion. These rules include beliefs that do not require scientific evidence or logic to back them up, must be agreed upon by followers. If atheism doesn’t require this, and is willing to consider and analyze other viewpoints before ruling them out, then I don’t see how anyone can say that it fits the definition of a religion. In this definition, it appears atheism is somewhat like a philosophy for people willing to seek an answer to the God question, but unwilling to find an answer to it without testable proof. If this is the case, then there are probably a lot more people who fall under the umbrella of atheism than just those who openly declare they are atheist. There are, in fact, probably a huge number of people out there who don’t even know they are atheists. (And probably don’t care anyway).

      • Jeff Randall says:

        I agree that the number of self reported atheists is almost significantly lower than the number of actual atheists…

        For myself, I called myself agnostic for many years, I call myself a non-believer for many years, I was “searching” for many years, but it took a LONG time until I was willing to call myself an atheist.

        Nothing about my views on the issue of a god or gods changed (I NEVER believed in a god), but my willingness to be open about my views changed. And my understanding of what atheism really is changed (I was one of the people who used to believe that atheists are too certain, at least until I learned more about atheism).

  2. writerdood says:

    BTW, I apologize if that didn’t make enough sense. I haven’t slept in a couple of days due to the flu, so I’m a little fuzzy. I did try and write a post defining religion once – although I really need to continue it at some point. If you don’t mind me posting a link, it’s here: http://writerdood.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/on-religion-1/
    If you do mind, then just delete this post. I don’t want to spam you or anything.

    Thanks.

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Your comment made sense, don’t worry about it…

      And you’re always free to post links that help the discussion or add to the discussion.

      It’s actually quite a good post… When I have more time I’ll read it again (I kind of skimmed through for now) and respond. But I can say that what I saw so far, I seem to agree with.

  3. Hi writerdood – I’m Angie. If I was presented with evidence sufficient to justify belief, then I would no longer be an atheist, definitionally. As unpleasant as absolutes or black & whites are, and as often as they are not true, in this case belief/nonbelief is a binary issue. To the best of my knowledge of the terms, you would be what’s called a negative atheist or soft atheist. (I don’t believe there IS a god but I don’t believe there ISN’T a god) The reason I say more directly “I don’t believe in a god” or even “There is no reason to believe in a god” or “there is no god” is because I don’t say “I neither believe nor disbelieve in the Loch Ness Monster” To me, at least, it’s an either/or question. Unless you HAVE belief, by definition you are an atheist. However, if you prefer, you can also simply use the word “nontheist” which doesn’t carry the particular baggage of strong/positive atheism 🙂 Remember, it’s totally up to you what you call yourself.

    @Rodibidably – Thanks for featuring my video 😀

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Angie,
      Not a problem at all. I enjoyed the video and thought it should be shared…

      There were two SMALL issues I had with the video though:
      Each time you refer to lack of religion I would have rephrased it as lack of belief in a god or gods… I know a number of people who are not religious, and yet still believe in a god or gods. And I think treating religion and belief as the same thing might cause some confusion…
      That said, I think your points you make are all spot on…
      The other issue is even more minor than that… your camera quality sucks… 🙂

      And I’d say if those are the two biggest complaints I have with it, the overall video is fantastic…

      • Hi Jeff. From 1:20 to 1:50 I tried to address that, but I can see being stricter to my definition would help. This is in response to a video calling atheism a religion (not just a belief/nonbelief)

        Wanna help me get a new used camera? Feel free to donate at http://bit.ly/ATATdonate 😛 (Yes, I am cheeky)

      • Jeff Randall says:

        Angie,
        As I said, overall I found the video to be great (which is why I shared it). It was just that I could see how some people might be confused by the fact that you seem to equate belief and religion as the exact same thing.

        As for the donation, the link doesn’t seem to work for me…

  4. Skrivener says:

    The terms I have heard bandied around are “weak” and “strong” atheist. The difference between the two seems a bit vague, but here is what I said at The Skeptic Exchange.

    “Weak atheists believe there is no god – Strong atheists know there is no god.”

    I think this was something I heard said on The Atheist Experience or maybe The Non-Prophets. Anyway, it’s a bit of an arbitrary distinction and probably not black-and-white, but indicates a level of surety on the subject.

    I am probably leaning more towards strong atheism myself very recently. The evidence for so many things we accept is overwhelming, whereas the evidence for gods is non-existent. I find myself asking myself: Why should I have any reservation at all about saying that some proposed being or state or event for which there is no evidence and no logical rationale does not exist/is not true and I know this to be so? If evidence is later presented this doesn’t preclude a change in position. Some doubt surely should only exist where there is some logical underpinning to an alternative hypothesis, and/or some reasonably unexplainable evidence that points to the need for additional speculation?

    The term atheist does require a lack of belief in a god, or gods (I would leave ‘religion’ aside, since there are arguably religious atheists who believe in less anthropomorphic supernatural authorities than an actual god but nevertheless follow the dogmatic and ritualistic belief structures of a religion). Angie is arguing that atheism doesn’t require an active disbelief in gods, just a lack of belief.

    Consider a world where gods were never conceived as a concept, populated by beings who do not believe in any god, and indeed haven’t even considered the idea that any such being might ever exist or be needed for any purpose.

    Present this alien planet to a group of believing Christians and I would be very surprised if they did not consider this a world of godless atheists (and a wonderful opportunity for missionaries). Hence it’s pretty reasonable to consider atheism the default position at birth for humans, where there is no belief in any god (indeed no concept of anything like a god). It is only once we are exposed to religious doctrines that we start to have anything other than a passive, default, disbelief.

    • Jeff Randall says:

      I’ve never really been a fan of the “weak” vs “strong” atheist idea…
      All atheists I have met have a VERY similar idea to religion as I do: https://potomac9499.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-god-does-or-does-not-exist/

      Some of them call themselves “strong” atheists, and some call themselves “weak” atheists, but the core of what they believe (or what they don’t believe) generally does not change with the choice of adjective they use.

      When even Dawkins (who almost anybody who’s heard of would call a “strong” atheist) admits the possibility of a god or gods, what REALLY is the difference between a “strong” and “weak” atheist? At least as far as with people I’ve talked to, there does not seem to be a difference.

      There should always be a willingness to admit you can be wrong.
      There should always be a willingness to consider new evidence as it becomes available.
      There should always be a willingness to question your own beliefs.

      As long as people hold to these three ideas, then there is no “strong” atheist, there is only people who based on the currently available information have concluded that a god or gods do not exist.

      I personally don’t ACTIVELY disbelieve every possible version of a god or gods imaginable.
      Surely I disbelieve in a number of specific ones where the evidence has shown them to be impossible, inconsistent, or historically inaccurate.
      For all other forms of god, I don’t have a specific reason TO believe in them, therefor without evidence, I just don’t believe.

      It may be a subtle difference, but there is one.

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