Thursday, 19 July 2007

Making a Case for Atheism

A theist by his or her very 'unnatural' nature, holds onto the concept of God and often all the mystical 'excess baggage' that comes with their religion, such as Heaven and Hell, belief in miracles, belief in the virgin birth, water turning into wine, Jesus walking on water, the parting of the Red Seas etc - they hold onto these beliefs, without even thinking that they have to make a case for their position. If you hold a more childlike belief in religion, then if your a Christian as just one example, you may even believe in Noah's Ark. If you can believe something, purely on faith, why would you have to make a case for it? - Indeed, the religious never or rarely ever try to defend their position.

But lets begin with the starting premise of attempting to make a case for atheism. Well, atheism is not, as some theists like to claim, 'just another religion' ...atheism in objective terms, simply means the none acceptance of the God concept; that's it. Now on what basis would one have to make a case for it. I would say the opposite, if someone disagrees with the atheist position, let them make a case against it. But it will have to be more convincing than, 'I'm not an atheist because I believe in God'.

The fact is, that in criticizing atheism, that is just about the best a theist can do. They can only criticize atheism through defending the concept of God. The fact is, this is a none starter; before you can defend a position and indeed, disprove the opposite proposition, you first have to produce, at least a modicum of evidence...

The above, is why the 'atheist position' does not have to prove its case. The atheist is not trying to prove anything. An atheist, is not holding the atheist position as a system of believes. The atheist position is simply the non-acceptance of God, and that's it.

As an atheist I do not have to go round thinking: 'I really have to work hard at my atheism today, I'm losing my atheist faith'. It is something most atheists never or hardly ever think about. Atheism is as natural to an atheist, as breathing air. But theism is something totally different. Unlike atheism which is just a 'negative' proposition to counter a claim made in the positive, religion on the other hand is a 'positive' set of beliefs. Religion is something individuals tend to work at, to stay 'holy' ...There must be an awful lot of sore knees in the World, from taking up servile postures on prayer mats.

If I was going to attempt to put a case forward for atheism, then I would simply say, look at the track record. Now it may well be true that atheists have done some heinous things in the World, but let us exclude one of the favorite, but erroneous arguments put forward by theists to denounce and 'blacken' atheism, trying to make a synonymous connection of atheism with Stalinism and Nazism. This is of course a 'red herring' argument against atheism, that is usually brought up, as the theists very 'low-bandwidth' level of attack. They have little to defend their religious position, so their only form of defense is attack, but when you cannot produce evidence for your position, then the best that is available is the odd non sequitur.

The one case that is put forth against atheism, which I grant is a little stronger than the Nazi/Stalin non sequitur, is the claim that without religion, we would not have causal link that acts as a catalyst, to bring people together... without religion, there would be no community. Now it may well be true that religious organizations have led to communities coming together and created social cohesion. But on the other-hand, one could argue that the only reason atheistic communities have not been aloud to grow, is because religion has held the monopoly of control.

But of course, the so called social and communal spirit created through religious 'harmony' is really not as blessed as the claims made for it. Northern Ireland is just one example of where religion did not lead to community, but hostility another example is the The Israeli Gaza Strip. But even if it were true that one could show, that religion does in some respect, create a community spirit (at least when it's not behaving to badly), that in itself does not make any of its beliefs true. I suspect, a society totally and utterly free of religion, would more naturally lead to a more harmonious community than one with it.

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Guitanguran said...

You make an interesting point about 'not' working at bettering your atheism. Is there something you are working at making better, and for what reason?

Craig Secularman said...

Not really sure I understand the question? ...I get the impression, that the premise of the question is, that if I'm not 'working' at my atheism, then there is nothing to work at. Please tell me if I'm wrong.

Well, I write this Blog and much of what I write is directly related to atheism. I don't feel that my atheism is been strengthened or 'worked on' through writing it though, this would imply that my atheist position needs to be constantly monitored, to make sure I'm not slipping.

Now, of course I do think more consciously about atheism, than I used to and for several reasons: It has become a big media issue lately, for example, because of religious conflict through extremism, a new enlightenment of literature on this very subject matter... through authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennett - et al, and the fact that I write this Blog. It is hardly surprising that all this does make one think more consciously about something that is held as an implicit conviction.

Now, I do not feel that my atheism has been strengthened by any of this stuff. What it has done, is to concretize my, already held atheist position. It has given another level of value to it. I always felt atheism was a respectable position to hold, this new burgeoning atheist enlightenment, simply strengthens my conviction.

As for whether I am working at making something better, well aren't most of us? I wouldn't write a Blog If it wasn't important to me. Hopefully others will enjoy it too, even if they don't necessarily agree with some of the positions. As Richard Dawkins and others have pointed out, there is a shift in the moral zeitgeist occurring. There are now many individuals writing about atheism and why many of us thing it is a moral stance. Now I am a 'small fish in a big pond' ...But I like to think that I'm doing a small bit to help move that zeitgeist along, even just a 'milli-fraction'.

Guitanguran said...

Actually I'm not sure what I was asking for, either. I have to say that I've not yet met a true atheist. I've encountered several people that classify themselves as atheists, but upon further investigation,they're actually agnostic as in, "well if someone COULD prove God's existence, then I'd have to reconsider". Non-acceptance seems to me just a convenient parking place until more information comes along.

Craig Secularman said...

Well here's your lucky day, I'm a true atheist. But yes, if you could show evidence for God, then I would have to shift my atheist perspective. But to simply say that the fact that I would be convinced by evidence, is not the same as saying, evidence is possible. The monotheistic God of Christianity, could not be proved through evidence. Evidence within nature, relies on identifying laws of physics. But the God concept is a supernatural speculation and thus, is beyond nature (this itself makes the God concept meaningless).

Well, I guess I am agnostic about God in the same way I am about tooth fairies and angels... In other words, I think God is as about as likely as the tooth fairy... I don't think one could be much more atheistic than that.

An agnostic by definition, is someone who is not sure. An atheist is sure, to define an atheist as agnostic is a straw man.

And you then say 'non-acceptance seems to me just a convenient parking place until more information comes along'.

Am I waiting for evidence of fairies, ghosts and hobgoblins too? ... are they parked in the same place? ...The God concept like fairies and hobgoblins is an arbitrary mind-spun speculation.

I am certainly not 'parked' waiting for evidence for God anymore than I am for fairies... Agnostics on the other hand are awaiting evidence for God and there's the difference.

Guitanguran said...

I would think that as an atheist, the proposition that I could prove God's existence to you would be impossible. Therefore, the response I would have expected is that since you're convinced by science and reason that God doesn't exist, there's nothing to prove. I submit that for an atheist, there can be no "if-then" proposition. The notion that you accept an 'if' proposition leaves the door of possibility for His existence open, if only a crack. If it seems like I'm parsing or splitting hairs, you're right. But we're dealing with absolutes here. Either you're convinced...absolutely, or not. Anything less is agnosticsm.

I don't see any benefit to bringing in hobgoblins or the tooth fairy into this discussion, as there's no serious proposition that any of those fictitious characters were responsible for creating the universe. That is the fundamental issue. Is there is a causitive, intelligent entity for this universe, or not?

Craig Secularman said...

I didn't say I was convinced by science that God doesn't exist. Although, having said that, the physicist Victor J. Stenger, has written a book called God the Failed Hypothesis and he does use the scientific method, to show very convincingly that the God concept even fails as a scientific hypothesis. Of course what he doesn't prove, is that God doesn't exist, that is because one could not develop a scientific evidence for or against God, because science requires knowledge within the natural realm of reality, the God concept is a supernatural claim and supernatural means above nature. But that is of course a favorite argument of theists: They will say that you cannot prove God doesn't exist and the assumption from this, is that this somehow gives weight to the God concept... But if I said to you that invisible aliens from a far away planet were roaming Earth, you could not disprove it, that is because one cannot disprove a negative, but that in itself is not the measure by which it qualifies as objective knowledge, if someone makes an arbitrary claim, then the burden of proof is on the person making the claim... Just as in a court of law, If an individual was accused of theft, the burden of proof that they didn't do it, would not be theirs, by what means could one prove such a negative. Rather, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution at least in civilized countries it does, if you live in a country like Iran, then you may be judged not based on justice but sin, but that's a whole other discussion.

Well, your comments on the "if" proposition. Well it is the same category as the arbitrary. I can say 'if' fairies existed, simply as a speculative proposition in an argument. it is just used as a tool to get a point across, but it is only meant in that context. The fact that I can say if fairies exist, does not imply that I believe that they do, in the context I used the term and that applies equally to the God concept.

Now of course theists admit that they cannot prove the God concept. They say themselves that their position is one purely based on faith... Well that's exactly what faith means, faith relies on an unconstructed mental foundation, it is really a 'castle in the air'.

And as for your point "bringing in hobgoblins or the tooth fairy into this discussion, as there's no serious proposition that any of those fictitious characters were responsible for creating the universe."

...Well what serious proposition do you have? ... Where's your evidence, all you have is faith and numbers. Sam Harris the author of 'End of Faith' made the point... 'what theists have on there side is large numbers of subscribers, what he means by this is that is all they do have. The point is that the truth is not determined by numbers, it is determined by evidence. If the truth was determined by numbers, then the once held belief by the majority, that the Earth is flat, would still hold true. As I said, if you make a claim that God exists, then the burden of proof is yours. But again, you cannot prove a supernatural speculation, that in itself is enough by which to dismiss it as meaningless.

Now the point can be summed up, as Richard Dawkins put it... 'Nobody believes in Thor or Zeus or Wotan anymore, or any of the other thousands of God's, some of us just go one God further'. So why is the Abrahamic God so special, it relies on the same faith as Thor, Wotan and Zeus... But all of us (religious or not) think think the idea of believing in them today would be silly, well, this exatly the same reason an atheist thinks the Abrahamic God or any other God is silly. So, why don't theists, put the same logic on their own God as it is based om EXACTLY the same logic, however christians try to spin it and pretend that some how, there God is the 'TRUE' God.

You then say, the fundamental issue "Is there is a causative, intelligent entity for this universe, or not?" ...Well you have just done what you accused me of with the "if" comment. To say "or not" means that your not sure of your God position. Now of course I wouldn't for a moment imply that this is what you mean, by the same token you should not imply the same, when I use the "if" word.

Now your comment on saying you expected me to say there is 'nothing to prove' ...Now you are beginning to understand me, that's exactly my position, that is exatly what I mean, when I calll the God concept an arbitrary speculation.

Craig Secularman said...

Sorry, I accidentlly deleted Guitanguran post... I have put it up again:

"I didn't say I was convinced by science that God doesn't exist."

Lets get to that first, because anything you said after that won't matter to me otherwise.

For you, whether its based on science,(and according to anyone I've talked to proclaiming their atheism, that's what they obstensibly based their atheism on)reason, logic, or something else, does God exist, or not?

Is it "absolutely not", or "I don't know"?

My response

It is absolutely not... I have a new post called, I believe in "god" - Which answers the very question you raise.

This may seem like a strange title for an atheist, but the inverted commas are important and support my athesitic stance and not a theistic one... "I Beleive in God" -