Atheism


No evidence equals atheismWhen you ask an atheist why they are an atheist, it’s not uncommon for them to respond, “Because there is no good evidence that God exists.”  If that is their only justification for atheism, they have made a gross logical blunder.

In the case of genuine dichotomies (such as God’s existence: God exists, or God does not exist), the lack of evidence for A is neither evidence against A, nor evidence for B.  In order to conclude that A is true or B is true, one must have positive evidence for the truth value of A or B.  The absence of evidence for both A and B simply means that we must suspend judgment.

Applied to the debate over God’s existence, even if one wants to argue that there is no good evidence for theism, it does not follow that theism is false, and it certainly does not follow that atheism is true.  To conclude that theism is false one must present positive arguments against theism.  Likewise, to conclude that atheism is true, one must present positive arguments for atheism.  Atheism is not the default position in the absence of evidence for God’s existence.

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What are your thoughts on this message?  Agree or disagree?  Is atheism a religion?  Why or why not?

atheism not religion

UPDATE: February 13

Now that I’ve heard from you and interacted a bit with your answers, here are my thoughts on the message:

I think the message and image is powerful.  I agree with the message too.  Atheism cannot be meaningfully identified as a religion.  This might seem like a no-brainer for some since atheism lacks belief in a deity, but belief in a deity is not a sine qua non of religion.  Think of Buddhism, for example.

The best reason for rejecting the claim that atheism is a religion is that atheism is nothing more than the belief that God does not exist.  There is no other content to atheism.  For something to qualify as a religion, not only does it need a set of beliefs, but it needs to contain positive beliefs.  Religions typically involve rituals of some sort, and provide answers to questions about origins, what’s wrong with the world, morality, meaning and purpose, and what the future holds.  Atheism does not address any of these elements.

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Lack of FaithHe who makes a claim bears a burden to demonstrate the truth of his claim.  Theists have a burden to demonstrate their claim that God exists, and atheists have a burden to demonstrate their claim that God does not exist.  Nowadays, however, it’s common for atheists to claim that the theist alone bears a burden of justification.  They try to escape their own burden of justification by redefining atheism from a “belief that God does not exist” to “the absence of belief in God.”  Since only positive beliefs can be defended, they are off the hook.  All the pressure lies with the theist.

While I think their attempt to redefine atheism is intellectually dishonest, let’s grant the validity of their redefinition for a moment.  Greg Koukl observed that while it’s certainly true atheists lack a belief in God, they don’t lack beliefs about God.  When it comes to the truth of any given proposition, one only has three logical options: affirm it, deny it, withhold judgment (due to ignorance or the inability to weigh competing evidences).  As applied to the proposition “God exists,” those who affirm the truth of this proposition are called theists, those who deny it are called atheists, and those who withhold judgment are called agnostics. Only agnostics, who have not formed a belief, lack a burden to demonstrate the truth of their position.

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religion_check_boxOver at Uncommon Descent, vjtorley reports on a recent survey of 996 adults conducted between October 17-18, 2013 regarding American religious beliefs.  Some of the more notable findings include:

  • 3 out of 4 adults believe in God: 76% believe in God, 14% don’t believe in God, and 10% are not sure.
  • Young adults aged 18-29 are the least likely to believe in God.  Only 63% believe in God.  A full 25% don’t believe in God, and 12% are not sure, for a total of 37% God doubters/deniers.  That’s 2 out of 5!  Compare this to other age groups:
    • 30-44 = 14% atheist
    • 45-64 = 9% atheist
    • 65+ = 6% atheist

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Universe from NothingLast year theoretical physicist and atheist, Lawrence Krauss, wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. As the title suggests, Krauss wrote the book to answer the age-old question of why there is something rather than nothing. The book was heralded by many atheists as the definitive answer to theists who claim God is necessary to explain the existence of physical reality. Indeed, in the afterward Richard Dawkins claimed that Krauss’ book devastates theistic arguments based on cosmology just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species devastated theistic arguments based on design in biology. Other reviewers, however – including scientists, philosophers, and theologians – beg to differ. Having read the book myself (not just once, but two times now), I can see why they were less than impressed with Krauss’ argument.

While my overall assessment of Krauss’ argument is not positive, truth be told, most of the book was quite enjoyable and informative.  That’s because the first 2/3 of the book is a lesson on the historical development of modern cosmology.  Krauss doesn’t make his case for why there is something rather than nothing until the last four chapters.  Unfortunately, that’s where the book falls apart.

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thinking manPhilosohpers David Bourget and David Chalmers recently surveyed 931 philosophy faculty members to determine their views on 30 different issues.  Here were some of the more interesting results:

God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%
Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.

Notice that although 72.8% of respondents are atheists, 56.4% are moral realists. This goes to show the strength of our moral intuitions. While atheists do not have a sufficient ontological grounding for objective moral values, they still believe in them nonetheless.

I was surprised that only 13.7% believe in libertarian free will. I would expect it to be much higher.  Perhaps this correlates with the high rates of physicalism.

HT: Scot McKnight

disembodiedSome atheists claim that God cannot exist because unembodied minds are impossible; i.e. that persons must be physical beings.  I spoke to this in a 2008 post.  Prayson Daniel recently blogged on the subject as well.  I would encourage you to read his post.  I commented on his post, and wanted to share some points I made that supplement the points I made in my previous post. 

This argument begs the question in favor of materialism and atheism. It merely assumes that minds/persons are reducible to brains; that we have no immaterial mind that is capable of existing apart from our bodies. No reason is given for thinking that a mind/person needs a body other than the fact that we are not familiar with it. That’s a very poor reason.  It confuses common properties of persons with essential properties of persons. 

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