Whether “denial of belief” or “lack of belief”, atheism is a non-ism

The conventional use of “atheism” is to describe a denial or a rejection of any belief in religions and gods and deities. To try and avoid the negative connotation of merely rejecting and denying the beliefs of others, some have redefined “atheism” to be the “lack of belief” in religions and gods and deities. As the American Atheists state

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

This replacement of “denial of belief” by “lack of belief” is  merely a cosmetic change. A lack of belief cannot define what there is a lack of belief about. To have a lack of belief in something specific requires that “something” to be defined. That “something” is always gods as variously defined by the beliefs of others. To have a lack of belief in the beliefs of others is no different then to a rejection or denial of those beliefs.

Atheism is entirely reactive. It is concerned with rejecting, denying and ridiculing the belief systems of others. It offers nothing itself in answer to the fundamental questions which led to the rise of religion and their gods in the first place. It is not difficult to attack and ridicule beliefs which – by definition – cannot be proved.  Many prominent atheists in recent times have been philosophers who have criticised religions (and their gods). These include such luminaries as Bertrand Russell and more recently, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. They follow a line of thinkers who go all the way back to when religions were invented. For example, atheist schools existed to counter the Vedic religions as far back as  2,500 – 3,000 years ago. But what is striking is that “atheists” could not exist until religions existed and they had something to attack. (And note that even chimpanzees “believe” in a Sun-god). To criticise religions and their gods is not wrong and I have no time for organised religions and their gods. But that criticism is of no substance unless followed up by addressing the questions which led to the very adoption of the beliefs being torn down.

Atheism is not in itself an “ism”. It is not a belief system or a philosophy or even a practice in itself. It has nothing to defend. It avoids attack because it has no beliefs to offer as answers to the fundamental questions of the beginning of time, the universe and everything. As an “ism” it is empty of substance. (I ignore the “agnostic” which is little more than a politically correct way of avoiding being labelled an “atheist”).

Richard Dawkins prefers distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probability—the likelihood that each assigns to the proposition “God exists”

It is only when you get to “determinism” – which incidentally includes a rejection of religions and gods – before the “ism” begins to gain some substance. “Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes”(But determinism and the limits of science is another story to be discussed elsewhere). To be an atheist provides no substance. You must be something else first.

The proposition that “God Exists” is logically meaningless until “God” is defined. This is the wrong proposition to be addressing. Most religions do not logically come to the conclusion that “God Exists”. They start with that as an assumption which – as with all such assumptions – is taken as self-evident but which cannot be proved. To ridicule this assumption is not difficult. Religions avoid the more fundamental questions by invoking their gods. But this is a method used also by physics and cosmology. The universe is assumed to be homogeneous. The four laws of nature operating in this homogeneous universe are invoked by physicists to avoid the question of why the laws exist in the first place. The Big Bang and Dark Matter and Dark Energy are invoked by cosmologists to avoid the question of why time exists and what time is and what the universe is.

The proposition which must be addressed first is “the unknowable exists”.


 

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